Coffee-drinking is taken seriously in Zagreb. In the city centre, you can barely move for coffee houses spawling into the streets. Inevitably, some of these similar-looking joints are lacklustre, and it's surprisingly hard to find cafes with menus that extend beyond drinks. But once you've found your cafe, you won't be disappointed: the finest offer expertly-made coffee, and treats to have a sweet-tooth grinning for hours. Here are the best cafes and coffee shops in Zagreb.
'You are now entering Evolution Area' says the sign on the door, which leads through to a coolly minimal white space with a handful of tables grouped around the bar. For several years now Eli's has been Zagreb's leading venue for quality coffee, leading a brown-stuff brewing revolution that is slowly spreading to the city's other bars. It is also one of the few cafe-bars that has remained 100% non-smoking, ensuring that you can actually taste and smell whatever it is you're drinking. A foxy young professional clientele gather here to gas, goss and guzzle coffee from 100% arabica beans selected and roasted by the café owner Nik Orosi, the country’s first specialty coffee roaster and supplies a half-dozen cafés with enough taste to want the best coffee in town.
Europe's quirkiest museum might leave you in tears, but at least you can console yourself in this breezy little cafe afterwards. Here, friendly staff will whip you up an ice-coffee or a thick hot chocolate, and everything's served with a homemade biscuit for good measure. It's spacious enough to sit and work for hours, and there's a broad beer selection for when you're done.
Built in 1924 and still retaining many of its period features, the 500-seater Kino Europa is the oldest still-functioning cinema in Zagreb. The grand auditorium is the main screening house for the Zagreb Film Festival in autumn, and serves as a first-run and art-house cinema for the rest of the year. For those into grappas, good beer, quality coffee and excellent wines, the Europa's other principal attraction is the café that spills from the spacious lobby to a glass-enclosed atrium with big outdoor terrace. Patrons sitting in black directors' chairs are served honey, apple, pear, fig and cherry (to name a few) brandies. Club nights fill the foyer following the final film screenings on Friday and Saturday nights, with DJs spinning an eclectic mix of rock, pop and retro-disco.
Taking over the foyer of a much-loved old cinema that nowadays shows art movies, Grič is one of Zagreb’s newer and hipper watering holes, filled daily with eager young arty types earnestly exhaling billows of cigarette smoke. The red-black interior is enlivened by a jolly rainbow-coloured mural at one end of the bar, and ceiling-mounted cylindrical lamp shades made from strips of 35mm celluloid. The cocktails (in the 30kn-35kn range) are well worth a flutter.
With bare-brick ceilings, concrete floor and lots of chunky metal, this is very much a post-industrial coffee-drinker’s dream. It’s certainly not without interior-design humour, however, with a long central table mounted on fat lengths of salvaged metal piping, and side tables that look like the interlocking cogs of a machine. The coffee is the main attraction (supplied by local importers and roasters Cogito Coffee), although the organic leaf teas are also a cut above the Zagreb average.
A recent addition to the growing number of top-drawer cafés in the city centre, Express serves direct-trade coffee from several origins (the specific farm will probably be chalked up on a board) and organic leaf teas. Decidedly mellow in atmosphere, it looks like a tiny place with room for only a handful of drinkers, but actually stretches back deep into the building with a long narrow corridor leading to a semi-hidden smokers’ lounge right at the back. Outdoor seating on the pedestrianised bit of Petrinjska, and decent on-tap beer (Erdinger and O’Hara) ensure that it’s a decent summer-evening spot too.
Flagship city-centre bar of the Cogito bean-roasting outfit, this recently-opened clinic for unrepentant caffeine-a-holics is just off the main street, at the start of the mysterious, half-hidden passageway which leads from Varšavska through to Masarykova. Minimally decorated save for some salvaged furniture and a few pictures, it serves a hard-to-beat brew, plus leaf teas, some freshly-squeezed juices, and that’s about it – save for some muffins and cookies provided by the Piknik bakery and sandwich bar.
Just off Ilica in a passageway lined by some of Zagreb's fancier shops, Velvet displays the kind of flamboyant-but-minimalist interior typical of its co-owner, avant-garde florist Saša Šekoranja. A big mirror above the marble bar and wine glasses share space with displays of croissants, chocolate cake and quiche. A well heeled gaggle lounges on low couches or elegant wooden chairs, supping strong quality coffee.
Opened in late 2014 and already a leading light in Zagreb’s ongoing bistro revolution, Bistroteka strikes the right balance between snack-nibbling informality and slap-up sit-down dining. The menu displays a playful interest in an anything from Croatia to the wider Mediterranean and the Far East, ranges from thoughtfully compiled ciabatta sandwiches to major meat-and-two-veg meals, all of which is prepared and served with aplomb. The menu changes according to what’s fresh and seasonal; daily specials are chalked up on a board. The in-the-know wine list offers a good mixture of boutique and mainstream production from all over Croatia. The place itself is a pleasant place to sit and contemplate the good things in life, with white-painted brick ceiling, kooky light fittings and unobtrusive background pop.
Zagreb’s prime literary club also doubles as a café, a collective run by two enthusiastic women. There is a symbolic membership fee of 10kn/year, but members can then enjoy WiFi, carefully chosen music, a laid-back atmosphere and regular events that include readings by the big beasts of the local literary scene – with occasional ones by visiting English speakers. Thursdays are reserved for unplugged concerts by local musicians. The twice-weekly Mercredi Français pulls in the capital's Francophone community. There’s also a small library of English-language books. Good coffee and several varieties of leaf tea help to make Booksa well worth the quick tram ride or ten-minute walk from the centre.
Tucked into a street busy with restaurants and bars, Jutro is as restful a spot as you’ll find in central Zagreb. White-painted wooden furniture, house plants and colourful cusions create a laid-back, home-from-home ambience. Bags, jewelry and hand-painted umbrellas add an arty-crafty vibe – they are made by local artists and are for sale. Serious care goes into the coffee, and there’s usually cheesecake or chocolate cake in the counter-side cake stand.
Done out in tones of blue, grey and light wood, this funky new cake shop and café provides enough variety sweet treats and salty snacks to keep a regular, interesting and chatty clientele through the door from breakfast time to evening drinks. Pride of place, though, goes to the bright and inventive cakes on show, sold by the slice or as dainty, individual creations, topped by a sliver of strawberry or dollop of meringue.
Hidden in an off-street courtyard, this mellow café next to a music shop has quickly built a regular clientele since opening in mid-2011. They take their (free-trade, Ethiopian) coffee very seriously, and serious caffeine addicts will trek halfway across the city to get their regular fix. With poetry readings, jazz in the evenings and art on the walls, it's something of a cult cultural hub into the bargain. The discerning drinks menu marks this spot out as more than just a regular boozer; with Erdinger, Fischers and O'Hara stout on draught.
There's an increasing number of smart-and-comfortable cafes in Zagreb that do the coffee-and-cakes thing respectably well. What distinguishes Oranž is the sheer scope and quality of what's in the display window: plumping for the impossible-to-resist lemon-and-lime meringue pie simply makes you pine for all the other cheesecakes and gateaux that you could have had in its place. There is also a respectable number of sandwiches, quiches and salads, but it's the sweet side of Oranž that will hold you in repeat-visit thrall.
Very much the new kid on the block when it comes to ultra-cool but ultra-comfortable interiors, Blok Bar is arguably Zagreb's most aesthetically pleasing place in which to enjoy a relaxing daytime brew. Designed by local architecture studio Penezić and Rogina, it's a great example of how to make the most of a small space, with a glass-cube bar area enfolded by a tiny L-shaped lounge with room for three or four tables. Wall-hugging green couches provide a simple and effective sense of comfort. An outdoor terrace with decking, sofas and potted plants has the feel of a small urban garden, and is deservedly popular with local drinkers on languorous summer evenings.
With a mixture of old wooden chairs and modern cast-iron affairs upholstered in pale blues and pinks, this delightfully twee, Frenchy-flavoured little place is the ideal spot to sip tea and munch your way through some of the Croatian capital's best lemon-meringue pies, cheesecakes and quiches. There's invariably a strong showing of different cakes in the glass display cabinet, rendering the selection process tantalizingly difficult.
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.
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.
Opened next to a bookstore in 2015, editions piled up around the furniture and ornaments from the first half of the 1900s, Finjak is unique enough to attract custom from anywhere in the city centre. A courtyard also helps. The drinks selection is extensive but geared towards daytime consumption: exotic teas, fine coffees, San Servolo and sought-after beers.
Though this place shouldn't be difficult to discover – located above the Stone Gate and below St Mark's – it is, somehow, oft overlooked and thus a great find. The front room is an art gallery with local artists' works for sale. The back end of the building is a posh café (with seating in the front gallery as well) with Persian rugs thrown about, wooden floors and leather chairs. Beyond coffee, expect 15 sorts of tea, Leffe beer, wine and cognac.