Bucharest is not just a place with a colorful history but also a city bustling with cool places for spending some fun time. Part of Bucharest’s appeal is the great variety of café’s, bars and pubs, something for every taste: Irish pubs, fairy-like tea houses, theme pubs, garden terraces.
The five spots that make the subject of this post have in common a mix of industrial and retro elements, recycled furniture and historical settings that lately evolved into a popular trend. They have been chosen on personal preference and, in time, other places can and will be added to the list.
The Bars: Papiota & Bicicleta
PapiotaCLOSED (English: The Curl Paper) is one of the first of its kind in Bucharest. Historically speaking, the Old Centre in Bucharest is a place of craftsmanship although the guilds disappeared along the years. During communism here you could still find shoe makers, furriers, glass makers and tailors- the latter being the source of inspiration for Papiota.
The bar is located on Lipscani Str. No.43 next to an actual tailor’s atelier and above a wedding dress shop. Right from the entrance there’s a board with clothing patterns from old communist magazines like the ones I’ve seen in my grandmother’s collection. For a moment you forget that you’re in a bar and expect for someone to come and get your measurements while you pick fabrics and colors.
From the 1960s sewing machines used as tables, grandma’s living room chairs to the curl papers that ornate the bar, everything breaths ostalgia (concept evoking nostalgia for life under socialism, most popular in East Germany and Poland). In an era when clothes were rarely available in shops, tailors were highly appreciated and to become a customer to a good tailor was an advantage.
Sipping cocktails such as Ecosez (English: Scottish tartan) or Catifea (English: velvet) around Monica- the sewing machine does look like a fashionable idea for a night out. Not to mention that the parties at Papiota are quite famous around town.
Across the street from Papiota we have another retro bar but a completely different theme: Bicicleta (English: The Bicycle). I remember discovering Bicicleta by chance, on a cold Saturday night when we wandered the cobble streets of the Old Centre looking for a place to have some drinks. We saw a yellow bike hanging from a balcony and decided that it deserves some checking out.
The bar was a pleasant surprise so we found a free half-table half-bike and spent the first minutes engaged in a thorough inspection of the decor. There are bicycles or parts of bicycles everywhere: tables with wheels, saddle-chairs, decorative handlebars and images with old bikes. Some of the pieces come from vintage English bikes and some from an old Romanian factory, Pegas.
Pegas is a brand of bikes born during communism (in the 1970s) that produced high-quality goods, mostly for export. The brand itself was bought in 2012 by young entrepreneurs who revived the bikes but the old communist factory has become a ruin. The owners of Bicicleta managed to recover some original pieces for their decorations and hand-made furniture. The result is a bar that has been included recently in a top of world’s 20 best bars in design (see top here).
The Pub: Energiea
When it comes to pubs in Bucharest one might safely say that we’ve developed an obsession for the Irish pub/Italian food mix. The truth is, pub culture does not have strong roots in Romania so we are still toying and experimenting with it.
Apart from the mass of identity challenged pubs we have Energiea.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Energiea used to be a printing shop that ran here until 1923 when the building changed owners and the printing shop closed. It was re-open during WW II but that didn’t last long as it was destroyed in a 1944 bomb attack. After this episode the space was turned into a restaurant and then a pub.
I have several reasons why I recommend Energiea for anyone who wants to go somewhere special. First is the industrial design of the place, a tribute to the original purpose of the building. The elements that catch your eye are the big old-looking mirror behind the bar, the silver pipes crossing the ceiling, the mix of chairs, bar stools and lounge sofa’s or the indoor balcony.
The interior comes along a delicious menu. A combination of local products and imagination take the traditional pub dishes to another level. Their upgraded version of French fries is a must and, if hungry enough, do try the home-made burger or pork ribs. Vegetarians do not panic! The menu is also veggie-friendly.
In cold times when drinks are best served warm you can find at Energiea exquisite grog or boiled red wine. Should I also mention that the wine mugs are dressed up in winter outfits?
The Bistros: Acuarela & Plastilina - CLOSED
About a year ago Facebook was packed with pictures from this new bistro with an amazing terrace called Acuarela (English: The Watercolor). When it became impossible to ignore, my friends and I went to see what it was all about. We expected a boom of color and sunshine and we were not disappointed.
It’s an eclectic combination that includes an iron chair with rococo influences, a wooden Game of Thrones-like chair (at the same table), a door used as table, decorative meat mincing machines, old Coca-Cola bottles next to post office boxes and a vintage motorcycle. This rather masculine-industrial appearance is tamed by an explosion of colorful umbrella’s that make for the roof of the terrace. One simply cannot be bored at Acuarela.
One of the best parts at Acuarela is that you can ask for watercolors and brushes and actually exercise your painting skills. We tried this once and painted portraits of each other. Needless to say they were so bad, we could not stop laughing.
Last year was all about Acuarela, this summer is Plastilina’s time to shine. Plastilina (The Modeling Clay), built on similar ideas, is the sister bistro-terrace of Acuarela.
It is situated in an old part of Bucharest, on the property of an 1893 manor. Plastilina occupies the stable, other dependencies and the courtyard. The concept was to create a happy place where people can relax and disconnect from the daily fuss of big city life. It's so well hidden that you actually need to know that there's something beyond the fence and the wardrobe blocking the entrance.
If Acuarela is crazy and abundant in details, Plastilina bets more on simplicity.The stable is a rustic-vintage ensemble with the originals waterholes, chains and mangers being part of the decor. The music is low, barely noticeable, the menu has only in-house made products (drinks, snacks & deserts), including Romanian handmade “Zaganu” beer. Upon request you get your own bucket of modeling clay to play with.
Time has a different rhythm at Plastilina and even if it doesn’t impress you from the beginning, the tranquility and peacefulness of the place will grow on you, especially after a long working day.