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.
Opening its doors in December 2010, Pepermint has been a welcome addition to the growing number of nightspots within staggering distance of the main square. Aimed at the laid back clubber who wants neither snooty VIP values nor grungey student venues, Pepermint is the ideal place to dance, flirt, or simply shout in your mate's ear while watching the action unfold. Minimalist white surfaces and greeny-blue lighting underline the cool minty theme. Expect a mix of live music and/or DJs during the week, soul and R&B on Thursdays, more frantic house and pop on Fridays and Saturdays, when there may be queues at the door and a tight squeeze at the bar. It's also open as a café during the day. Free entry till 11pm at weekends and 10pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, after which there's usually a moderate cover charge of around 25kn.
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.
Brainchild of Zagreb resident Sergej Lugović, who has had 20 years of experience as a clubber, DJ and owner in London, Moscow and Zagreb, Sirup is hidden away behind an anonymous-looking door on an anonymous-looking street of supermarkets and warehouses. Inside, however, it feels like an intimate lunar park. The bar is composed of rounded, glittery stone inlayed with lights. The passage to the dancefloor undulates and is framed by padded silver walls. Order cocktails, pint-sized Bavarias or shots of local spirit Pelinkovac under disco balls. The DJs, domestic and international, attract a healthy mixture of scenesters who know their dance-music genres and party animals pure and simple. Burlesque parties and live music occasionally squeak their way onto the schedule. Cover charges range from 30kn-60kn.
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.