Cultural Cocktail

27 December 2023

They may simply seem to be spaces for social meetings or solitary coffee breaks, but the truth is they are havens of culture, disseminating artistic vibes.

Kraków abounds with pubs. The seasons mark and change our habits and impose their own rules: winter, more than all others, is perfect for exploring cosy, bustling and artistic spaces. Creativity is key here, since it will mark out the route of our pub crawl.

Let’s start in Kazimierz and a pub surely familiar to all Cracovians – and likely others, too. It’s been running for over twenty years at several addresses: starting off at Św. Jana Street, moving to Sławkowska, then to Bożego Ciała Street for five years, finally settling at its current venue at Wolnica Square. Piękny Pies is legendary. It grew from the needs of creative circles – people who wanted to be active in the community. “The pub was just an additional element of our artistic activities,” says co-founder Maciej Piotr Prus. At its core there were performances, art exhibitions, lit- erary meetings and perhaps its popular spoken magazine. Prof. Jerzy Vetulani was wont to compare the atmosphere to the early days of Kraków’s legendary cabaret Piwnica Pod Baranami. Piękny Pies wandered, taking its most important values wherever it went. At Bożego Ciała Street it had a large stage, hosting theatre rehearsals, concerts of music of all genres, dances until dawn, favourite lectures and screenings of Czechoslovakian cinema. Today, when you arrive at Wolnica Square it’s like entering a gallery: the walls display images depicting a pixellated Robert Makłowicz and works by Marta Deskur, Katarzyna Kukuła, Piotr Lutyński and Marcin Maciejowski. Art is at the forefront, but at weekends the room on the ground floor continues the music traditions of previous venues. As Prus promises, the plans for November include the launch of discussion meetings under the banner “absent artist”, giving a voice to critics as well as fans of selected artists.

Let’s leave behind the dim space of Piękny Pies and head into the bright, verdant Hevre. The building is unique on the architectural scale: the former Jewish house of prayer now serves as a meeting space and festival venue, and it witnesses myriad local artistic initiatives. The basement and two floors can run events concurrently. It’s also possible to close individual sections, leaving just the largest space: the bar and restaurant, where mezzanine tables stand next to microbrewery vats. Izabela Chyłek, Hevre’s manager, says that once upon a time she wanted to travel andndiscover the world – and now she runs a place the whole world wants to visit. Hevre hosts major events, including Patchlab, Audio Art, Off Camera, the Non-fiction Reportage Festival and the Jewish Culture Festival, as well as equally important, local meetings and, a few years ago, the surprise party marking the closure of the nearby long-running metal shop. Hevre’s rhythm varies: in the mornings it’s the perfect quiet spot for working, becoming much livelier in the evenings. And the location is pretty special: according to Chyłek, “Kazimierz has become one of Kraków’s most important districts, and it boasts popular neighbours of Podgórze, Dębniki, the Old Town and Zabłocie. We’re at an exciting crossroads!”

A little further from the city centre, Podgórze is also home to plenty of attractions. The Spółdzielnia Ogniwo cooperative – once found at Paulińska Street in Kazimierz and now located by Smolki – is an unusual for- mation. Anna Gulińska, one of the members of the cooperative, quotes Paulina Siegień, winner of the Conrad Award: “It’s the best disco among bookshops and the best book- shop among discos.” And it’s only partially a joke: audiences flock to concerts held as part of the Miłosz Festival, Bookshop Night, Poetry Night and during Halloween, as well as standup gigs (some with a distinct literary flavour). But Spółdzielnia Ogniwo isn’t just a space for sounds and dance. Local activists who founded it ten years ago were guided by the cooperative principles, as well as creating an independent bookshop. This is why it is open to myriad municipal activities, local initiatives and traditional literary meetings. The venue serves as a meeting space for academic circles of students, the “Empathetic Parents” group and book clubs, the nearby Bureau of Social Initiatives, the Queer May Association… Ogniwo has been awarded three times during the annual “Bookshop of the Year” poll, serving as tangible proof of its popularity. Gulińska is especially delighted by the certificate in the “best events” category (the other two being “best atmosphere” and “best booksellers”). Let’s head north, towards the Main Market Square yet staying off the main beaten track: to Cafe Szafe, operating at Felicjanek Street for over twenty years. The place seems especially designed as a hiding space, with converted wooden wardrobes serving as comfortable cubby holes. The similarities to Narnia are no accident – and, just like in C.S. Lewis’s stories, we are taken to a different reality. The venue hosts popular events intertwining Halloween traditions with ancient Slavic customs. Łukasz Dębski, founder of Cafe Szafe, explains: “Our idea has been a great hit, and the concept is used during similar events held throughout Poland.” Magic and alternative dimensions reign supreme also at other times, such as on St Andrew’s Eve (celebrated under the banner “Gypsy Night”) when fortune tellers make themselves at home in the converted wardrobes. Cafe Szafe also hosts a popular New Year’s Eve party, as well as far more sedate events: the fortnightly chess club preceded by lectures by acclaimed chess champion Piotr Kaim, and a weekly “Bloody Monday” cinema club screening B- and C-movies. Café Szafe was also used as a set for some scenes in Wojciech Smarzowski’s film The Mighty Angel.

And all this is just a tiny part of what we’ll find when we wander around the city – made all the more satisfying by the knowledge that all these activities are rooted in the pure de- sire for creativity and fun!

Kinga Dawidowicz

The text was published in the 4/2023 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.


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