Where to drink in Zagreb
This leading music bar and student hang-out has expanded into the next-door room to double its size and smartened up the decor. Located under the gleaming glass-and-steel National University Library (NSK), it's a coffee-break bar for students during the day, and an alternative music bar serving discerning bohos by night. The interior features comic-book murals by Igor Hofbauer, vintage movie posters and twinkling ceiling panels that look like the sky at night. Indie and cover bands occasionally squeeze into the corner of the room; DJs spin garage-rock discs at weekends.
Thank to a gaggle of designer stores the narrow, arcade-like Dežmanova is fast becoming one of Zagreb’s coolest addresses, an impression only bolstered by the opening of this chic new café-bar. The interior is as modernist as they come but soothing with it. Matt-black walls jostle with warm woody tones, and geometric light fittings convey an arty bent. As far as the drinks are concerned the accent is very much on quality at a decent price – coffee is supplied by local direct-trade roasting outfit Cogito, beers include the locally brewed Zmajsko Pale Ale, long drinks a refreshing Bellini (25kn), and there’s a good wine list with plenty of sparkling options. The cakes are hard to turn down, and there’s an evening menu of pršut and cheese platters.
Occupying one of the best pitches in central Zagreb, right in the middle of the pedestrianised strip opposite the Grounded Sun sculpture, newly opened Vinyl is a bit like a rambling apartment, with five separate rooms on the main floor and a live music and events room downstairs. Each is decorated in a slightly different style. The drinks menu is big on whiskies; among the bottled beers, look out for Rock and Roll (17kn), an extremely palatable red variety from Daruvar in eastern Croatia. The previous tenant of this roomy property was a Japanese restaurant, which helps to explain the samurai-fixated graphic art on the walls of the back bar. The weekly schedule includes live music on Wednesdays, literary reading on Thursdays, vinyl-only DJs at weekends, and – perhaps uniquely for a Zagreb café – the ‘Flying Bookshop’ second-hand book exchange on Monday evenings.
This first-floor flat in a charming old Tkalčićeva building has been transformed into an agreeable warren of quirkily decorated sitting rooms, with mix-and-match furnishings, paintings on the walls, and agreeably low-key lighting. There’s also outdoor seating in a slightly raised garden overlooking one of the busiest stretches of this bar-filled street. Rakijas are the stars of the show: if there’s a fruit or vegetable that you can make brandy out of then rest assured that it will be on the menu here somewhere. Bottled beers include the excellent Velebitsko pivo and the boutique-brewed Visibaba range.
Right at the top of the Tkalčićeva strip, this new venue launched in autumn 2014 looks exactly how a music bar should do, with a small stage at one end of a dark but imaginatively lit space and all kinds of musical memorabilia hanging from the walls. Lamps hidden inside bass drums hang above a long bar stocked with the the kind of things that any self-respecting rock-and-roller would want to see – with whiskeys, rakijas and boutique beers (from Istrian brewery San Servolo) lining the shelves. Live music from Wednesday through to Saturday, featuring funk, rock covers, and plenty of blues.
The newly opened Garden Brewery is a unique contribution to Croatia’s emerging craft beer scene. Housed in an old red brick factory in Zagreb's industrial east, it's a lively, characterful venue for both club nights and family-friendly events. The lovingly-brewed beers on tap include a zesty pale ale and a stout to please the most discerning drinker. For food, the Garden team have drafted in Submarine. Their gourmet burgers are the best in Zagreb, and - paired with a beer brewed on sight - make for an insuperably delicious dinner. Every weekend the brewery throws an open-armed party - head there on Saturdays for DJ-led club nights, and go back on Sunday with the kids; their family friendly Sunday Sessions are a brilliant mixture of live music, gastro street food, and the finest beer in town.
Known by all as 'Krolo' after the writer Miroslav Krleža who lived here, this beautiful old wooden bar near the main square gives its many patrons a flavour of pre-1991 Zagreb. The bar staff are easy-going, the inviting older clientele religiously scan the day's newspapers and the younger regulars gather round the semicircular bar. No DJs, no hipster-attracting tricks, but still crowded and raucous at weekends. Timeless is the word you're looking for.
Opened in June 2014, Pod Židom has effortlessly elbowed its way to the top of the wine-bar league, offering an affordable-to-expensive mixture of great Croatian wines, a range of Mediterranean-style lunches and tapas dishes, regular live music, and a wonderful outdoor terrace overlooking a street that’s very central but also slightly hidden from the hubbub of the main square. Done out in a mixture of greys and pale wood tones, it manages to look smart but laid back at the same time. The weekday ‘set lunches from Dolac market’ are a steal at 40kn-55kn.
Is Zagreb finally getting the craft beer scene it deserves? The recent popularity of Craft Room would imply so. This elegantly styled boozer stocks progressive beers from near and far – and it’s always packed with punters. The vibe is more gastro-pubby than your standard Zagreb café-cum-bar. This theme is accentuated by a modern day hunting lodge aesthetic, and food here tends towards the classic, pairing beer with brew-tavern favorites like burgers, chips and stew. Make this your first stop for new releases from regional breweries. There are 12 beers on tap – around half of these are local, with one or two from the UK and Germany. If these don’t take your fancy, there are over 150 bottled options. The atmosphere gets a bit headier on weekends. A DJ plays from a catalogue of funk, blues and rock and roll, and the place fills up quickly. Phone ahead to reserve if you’d prefer not to jostle for a table.
Diagonally opposite the enduringly popular terrace of Kino Europa, Tesla Power House attests to the creeping spread and growing popularity of Zagreb’s Flower Square bar hopping area. First came Bogovićeva, then Preradovićeva and now round the corner into Varšavska. Smart, but sufficiently dark inside to feel like a groovy nightspot rather than just a café-bar, the Power House covers up for its rather mainstream choice of bottled beers with a good wine list and cocktail menu. Cover bands, regular DJs and happy hours fill out a varied weekly programme. If you’re looking for signs of epochal inventor Nikola Tesla, then yes, there are a few pictures of the Croatian-born Serbian genius – but the theme is disappointingly underdeveloped.