They are an integral part of Warsaw’s nightlife and come in many places, shapes and colours. What they have in common: hundreds of little wodka glasses that they serve you for 4 zloty or 1 euro (less if you know the right addresses). Who are they? Warsaw’s shot bars.
Their hero? Polish wodka of course, that comes declined and flavoured in dozens different ways. And the nibbles that support the wodka (a concept that only true Slavs can understand): pickled stuff (cucumber is the obvious, but how about pickled egg?), sausage, herring, etc.
There’s one wodka shot bar where I am a regular, I don’t know how this happened but it’s become a tradition for me to visit whenever I’m in Warsaw – it’s Pijalnja.
To be honest, tonight, which is a sober Wednesday night during a business trip, I had to drop by and check the name (and also check whether the cherry wodka still had the same taste, of course) before writing this post, as I otherwise had no idea what the place’s name was. I always end up here following my instinct and my inner circle of friends, but wouldn’t know how to explain directions to it.
It is a shot bar where past meets present, where history mingles with the zeitgeist of the moment, where you can come for 2015 Sunday brunch and have a 1967 shot to wash it down, where Soviet era staples are showcased on an international menu in English language.
From the communist times, they have kept the waiters’ strict uniform, the red-hair lady (but everybody knows she dyes her hair) who won’t give a smile or a hug but will sell a shot, and the decoration, which as often in shot bars evokes nostalgia, but here less with old Soviet paraphernalia than elsewhere and more with authentic old TVs and old newspaper articles used by way of wallpaper.
But most waiters and waitees are Millenials here (that word we older people use to describe a new generation of youngsters that we find hard to understand) and the wodka is served in a way that reminds more of the trendy cocktail bars of megalopolises than the true Soviet-era рюмочная vodka bars of Russia (that I’d love to tell you about but my mother occasionally reads these lines and therefore I should perhaps refrain) .
Enough, let’s stand at the bar with a cherry wodka and do a bit of people watching. Who’s behind the bar today?
There is Kazimiera, the energetic lady in her fifties and in her serious uniform. She is short, and strong. She can do an eight-hour shift serving shots to a myriad of different audiences relentlessly, enduringly, unflinchingly. She is a real project manager from the Soviet times – she might not be super pleasant to work with, but she is efficient.
There is also Gniewko, with Soviet bow-tie uniform but Nazi hairstyle, a real hipster. Tall, self-aware and confident, he winks at the girls and high-fives the boys, and seems to do well all he does, although that wouldn’t happen without Kazimiera’s kindness who goes after him and replaces every empty bottle by a fresh one in the bar’s freezer.
And there is Łukasz, the short guy who secretly dreams of another life but is stuck here for some reason, serving shots to these idiots 24 hours a day, and listening to Kazimiera and Gniewko complain about all the things he neglects to do. But he doesn’t care, for he is high after he went outside “for a smoke”, and tripping with his spacey eyes on water drops shapes on the glass while he is doing the dishes.
I am so used to this shot bar that I cannot imagine a visit to Warsaw anymore without a quick drink in here, even just for people-watching purposes. After telling you about the waiters, maybe next time I will tell you about the guests!