Dunaj the River ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Bratislava: the Unique Beat of Dunaj

The view from KC Dunaj ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The view from KC Dunaj ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

I often use Dunaj as an example of how Bratislava can make cool stuff happen. For anyone who thinks the city is a place of staid white people going about their daily business with a scowl on their face that only deepens at the first sign of counter-culture, a visit to this bar/club/cultural venue on the top floor of a part-abandoned old shopping centre right in the heart of the Staré Mesto will change your mind sufficiently.

Dunaj is the Slovak word for the Danube – the huge waterway you can see winding its way through town – and just as that river carries all manner of things in its wake, from fallen tree trunks to kayaks, rather weird-looking cargo ships and that famous trio of botels (boat hotels), well, so Dunaj the cultural venue bears all manner of music gigs, docu-films, theatre and topical discussions within its seemingly never-ending stream of events.

What I also like about this place apart from its great location (you get there in a rickety old lift and come out into the huge fourth-floor main bar area with a big terrace gazing out over the burnished steeply-pitching rooftops of the city centre, see the featured image) is how effortlessly you can become part of Bratislava’s young, sharply-dressed alternative set – one of the hipsters, basically. No slack-jawed stares for the new-in-town visitor here: only smiling acceptance and struck-up conversations – emblematic of the city’s burgeoning reputation as an arts destination. It’s the place that proves the cliché true that it’s possible to walk in to a joint a stranger and leave having had some surreal bonding experience with the locals.

Daytime yoga? Balkan club night? Rock and Roll classics? Experimental board games? The choice is yours… and that’s not forgetting that Dunaj is a host venue virtually every time an avant-garde festival comes around: Fjúžn, for example, which promotes different cultures in Bratislava and, of course, gets a mention on this very blog.

Put it this way. It’s the first impression of Bratislava nightlife you’d want to have.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Nedbalová 3

OPENING: 12 midday to 12 midnight Monday to Wednesday, 12 midday to 2am Thursday and Friday, 4pm-2am Saturday and 4pm to Midnight Sunday.

 

Verne

It’s always the way, right? You come to a beautiful city centre, you see the key sights and then you build up a thirst – or even a hunger – for after all, being a tourist or a traveller or a wanderer or whatever word you choose to use for it is, sometimes, draining. And of course when you are in afore-mentioned city centre in x country you realise nearly all the places to eat are fearfully expensive, devoid of atmosphere and certainly devoid of locals: the last places, if you are anything like me, that you would ever wish to eat.

This is where a joint like Verne comes in. You’ve come down to the Old Town through the beautiful Michael’s Gate, taken a picture (for some reason) of the compass on the cobbles, checked out each of the quirky statues in the city centre (like the bronze man emerging from the manhole) and amiably strolled through those gorgeous medieval central squares. You’re bang in the centre of things and you want lunch (or indeed dinner). Verne is there to help out… if, that is, you want your city centre meal to be the opposite of what’s described above (i.e. somewhere reasonably priced, brimming with ambience and always bustling with local clientele.

Verne is on the north side of Hviezdoslavovo Námestie, my favourite of Bratislava’s squares because of its length, leafiness and the gorgeous Slovenské Národné Divadlo (Slovak National Theatre) at one end. Its entrance, as with most under-the-tourist-radar places, is not obvious: in the hot weather they have a few tables out front but otherwise you have to descend some steps within an ornate tree-shaded building on either side of two far brasher bar-restaurants that, if you weren’t know, you’d end up in. (Fear not – with the Englishman in Slovakia, you are IN the know.)

I’ve been going to Verne on and off two years now.

This wine was actually pretty good :)

This wine was actually pretty good :)

When you come into the bar area, you’ll see why, too. In its own understated way this place exudes elegance. Namely normal, everyday Bratislava folks tucking into their food in a dimly lit underground dining area that looks a bit like the aftermath of a party in a sumptuous aristocratic house about, say, 1880: old slightly crooked standard lamps, lavish but rumpled tapestried seats, cupboards stocked with old wines that look like they’ve been sitting in the same positions since Slovakia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A carefully orchestrated atmosphere of ailing grandeur, in other words. And, unlike quite a few city restaurants I could mention, people talk here. Conversation fairly ricochets off the beamed ceilings. But the talk is almost 100% locals – families, large groups of friends… it’s a popular ex-pat hangout too (those slightly-drunk older guys speaking about city politics in English loudly at the bar, you know).

Steak on a bed of rice… a Verne staple

Steak on a bed of rice… a Verne staple

The atmosphere is why to come to Verne.

The food is very reasonable price-wise but don’t expect top quality. The steaks are too well-done. The salads are heavy on the grated carrot which reminds one of typical English pub salads (so ask for the feta and tomato salad instead, which Verne does very well).

But there is variety. It’s the ideal place for a breakfast the morning after the night before (good, well-cooked comfort food). The soups are very tasty. The stuffed chicken with mozzerella always goes down a treat. There are a lot of different tasty pasta options (the spinach lasagne is my favourite).  The cooking mixes up the more typical Slovak fare (dumplings, potatoes and sheep’s cheese) with plenty of healthier veggie offerings. The wines? They veer from OK to wince-ably acidic.

But you’re always going to have a good-enough meal here and with prices this cheap and an atmosphere this good, the overall experience is going to be better, and a fair bit more authentic, than anywhere else in this part of Bratislava.

And if you want dinner before heading for a concert at the wonderful Slovak Philharmony or opera at the afore-mentioned Slovak National Theatre, this place is the perfect choice.

MAP LINK: The pinpoint on Google maps goes to Kogo Bar, which doesn’t exist; nevertheless this is the approximate location of Verne

LOCATION: Hviezdoslavovo Námestie 18 – there’s no website (just the Facebook page given above) which means pre-booking is tough. In any case, it’s unnecessary. Verne is a veritable rabbit warren inside with lots of tables, and it’s rare to find it with no free space. So just turn up. This is Bratislava, remember, not London or Paris.

OPENING: 9am-midnight Monday to Friday, 10am-1am Saturday, 10am-midnight Sunday.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Come in for dinner about 9-9:30pm to find this place at its liveliest – or mid-afternoon/early evening in summer you can grab a pew on the outside tables overlooking the pretty Hviezdoslavovo Námestie.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Precede a visit to Verne with coffee at Kava.Bar, a 700m walk northwest