Vienna? Budapest? Ljubljana? Zagreb nightlife is matched by few places owing to the range of regular live music on offer – and for the sheer number of venues to stage it. Zagreb is also known for its music bars – places such as SPUNK transform into small clubs as the night wears on, with occasional live acts too. Read on for our list of the best places to dance the night away.
The best nightlife in Zagreb
Following a thorough refit in 2011, Tvornica kulture ('The Culture Factory') has lost no time in reestablishing itself as Zagreb's leading medium-sized venue for live rock and pop. The fashionably black, 1,800-capacity main hall (Veliki pogon, 'Large Workshop') has now been augmented by the addition of a much more intimate small hall (Mali pogon), which hosts gigs by local bands and disc-spinning after-parties. Mali pogon also works as a café during the day. Concerts take place several times a week, with club nights featuring DJs and visuals at weekends. Ticket prices range from 35kn to 150kn depending on who is playing. Draught beer 15kn, imported Czech Budweiser in bottles 20kn.
Legendary venue that has hosted innumerable international names (the Buzzcocks, Jonathan Richman, Einstürzende Neubauten and Mogwai to name but four) alongside virtually anybody that matters on the domestic musical scene, Močvara, 'the Swamp', is where young alternatives gather for underground fun and a wide variety of live music acts. Set on the banks of the Sava, it holds about 600 people in an abandoned factory imaginatively muralled by graphic artist Igor Hofbauer. The programme ranges from live punk, metal, world and ethno music to retro-DJ nights, gothic parties, alternative theatre and mind-bending one-night-only art exhibitions. Entrance ranges from free to 100kn depending on what's on (check the website).
KSET is an excellent, adventurous venue for live music and DJs, with events taking place three or four nights a week. Well worth the hassle of finding, KSET has actively promoted new bands for decades, an oasis for underground, post-rock, Americana, avant-jazz, punk, rap, ethno and lots of other stylistically diverse artists. With a 400-person capacity this intimate and friendly space is the ideal venue in which to catch a band on the cusp of the big time. The choice of drinks is limited to beer, wine and fruit juices, but prices are rock-bottom.
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.
Opened a decade ago, Sax is one of the best spots in town to see live bands. Different nights of the week are devoted to different genres, with up-and-coming indie bands playing on Tuesdays, jazz, classic rock and dance-oriented DJs filling out the rest of the schedule. The stage is big and the venue is spacious and awash in orange with plenty of booths for the partied-out and also plenty of room for dancing. The crowd here is JJ Cale-mellow and half-litres of Tuborg are only 16kn. Sometimes free, sometimes 20kn or more on the door depending on who is playing.
The intimate Masters is located next the clay courts of the Maksimir Tennis Centre and in a loft bedecked with wooden floors and a tree-house-style bar. The DJ presides over a relaxed vibe and offers music from deep house to dub, techno to reggae. International names make appearances here in this relatively secret dance enclave.
The one club on the Jarun lakeside to be open 12 months a year, this 2,000-capacity, two-floor venue, which opened in 1992, is still ahead of the field. This is largely due to its commitment to mixing danceable beats with innovative DJ styles, augmented by a regular agenda of live music (with international rock and world music predominating) and Dj sets by international big names. The two floors – Aquarius 1 and 2 – pump different sounds but do, on occasion, come together. Friday might feature anything from Goa Trance to RnB (check the website), while Saturdays usually see an eclectic mixture of cutting-edge House and electro presided over by chief resident DJ Martyn Negro. In summer, Aquarius opens its beach branch at Zrće at Novalja on Pag. Entrance fees range from 30kn for club nights to 120kn for gigs.
One of the snazziest clubs by Lake Jarun – and in Zagreb – Gallery has hosted DJs such as Ian Pooley, David Guetta and Martin Solveig. The interior is funky-chic and filled with chandeliers and candelabras. Big doormen keep a tight control on numbers and enforce a dress code (no trainers or jogging suits, please). Once you pass the face test, you get to rub shoulders with local bling, actors, sports stars and the odd random hipster thrown in. Fridays are devoted to hip hop and r'n'b, while Saturdays are dedicated to house. The wooden terrace is a boon. If you're in, it's fun. Typical cover charge: 30kn for women and 40kn for men.
A 15-minute walk south of the train station, Boogaloo is a 1,500-capacity DJ club and live venue, opened in a spacious former cinema and cultural centre – scene of seminal shows by Laibach and Einstürzende Neubauten in the mid-1980s. Expect a varied schedule of retro parties, house or techno DJs, and live international metal acts.
Still going strong despite the municipal authorities' threat to dramatically raise the rent, this shrine to all things alternative grew out of Zagreb’s anarchist movement and is still run as a non-profit-making collective. A courtyard decorated by some of Zagreb’s best street artists has a café-bar on one side, and a concert venue-cum-club space on the other. Events range from anarcho-punk gigs to dub reggae DJs and cutting-edge dance music, with all kinds of other styles thrown in for good measure. Visual arts association Otomptom throw impromptu film evenings screening animation and shorts. Popular with a broad spectrum of Zagreb’s club-hungry youth, Medika is much more than just a gathering point for the grungey underground.