What’s in a name?

MikeM returns for a close looks at the names of Krakow’s bars and pubs. I simply can’t imagine how he came to know so many.

Arriving in Krakow last August the fist thing to grab me, other than a crazy street drunk on the Market Square, were the names of pubs, bars and clubs. Capote, Siesta, San Francisco Cappuccino, Hard Candy, Prozac. The names didn’t seem in keeping with the tenor of the city. Take Florianska Street; a little out of place is all I’m saying. The basement bars either didn’t have names or were only identifiable as bars by the Tyskie signs outside. If I stumbled into them accidentally, usually drunk, I’d never find them again. This is how it works in Krakow: give your establishment some corny concept appellation or have it so well hidden, like Pausa on Florianska and Pietz on Szewska, that nobody will ever find it again. It occurred to me that the marketing was entrepreneurial. In the case of many bars and clubs in the Old Town, the method is to attract the attention of city breakers on the weekend for the fast money, then rename the venue in a few years as the zeitgeist shifts. Just keep re-branding to get the tourism euros not the loyalty of the locals.

I automatically drew comparison to my home country, Ireland, where most pubs and indeed many restaurants and high street businesses are named after the owners or founders. You have McDonough’s bar and off license, Cosy Joe’s, Cronin’s seafood restaurant, McGinty’s and Sons, The Rusty Mackerel and so on. Words that come to mind include: family, tradition, pride, place, history, trust, loyalty, theme and originality. This, these words, I argue are what’s in a name. But that was in 2000. I left Ireland for eight years and when I returned to Dublin, many newly opened bars in the city centre and most bars, pubs, cafes, eateries in the regenerated city limits and suburbia were of the Kafka café, Q bar, Mao Mao and Le Cirque variety. With interiors mutilated “to look like an LA apartment, with all the charm of a lava lamp” as one commentator put it. This wasn’t to herald the cosmopolitan emergence you see, but the catchpenny tastelessness of a town drowning in new money, trying desperately to capture the young, Nuevo riche market, so lower socio-economic groups would aspire for access. ‘Pole drift’ I believe is the marketing term.

Going back a few centuries to neighbouring England, you have The Red Lion, Coach and Horses, The Saracen’s Head, and you still do, at a fleeting look. Back in the day these names were accompanied by corresponding images for those who couldn’t read, thus elucidating the bold visual descriptors. And the names weren’t picked randomly, they were illustrative of some local connection. The Cobblers Inn was probably a cobbler’s shop once upon a time… you get the idea. But on a recent visit to a friend in Epping Forest, Essex, hopes that the English pub name had retained its dignity were dashed. There were as many Viva’s and Moda’s as Red Lions in Central London. Though pubs here in Poland are a relatively new addition to the cityscape, many of their names lack imagination and are as naff as those now blighting suburban Dublin and London. I lament the passing of the pride with which a proprietor would name his/her establishment in place of something with ‘zing’ intended to capture some bent notion of hipness.

Back to Krakow and Johnny Lamus Jazz, Saloon, Sphinx and a myriad of other tentative anglophile translations. The service sector seams to have an identity crisis. Even bank names, gyms and travel agencies in Krakow think that some random string of English words is the key. There’s a travel agents on Karmelicka Street called Supertramp. A reference to Into the Wild? Why? Here are streets and byways of kitsch concept names on plastic signage fixed to big, beautiful, baroque buildings. It’s short sighted and will blight the beauty of Krakow, the very thing that attracts people to the place.

The interiors of Old Town pubs are also confusing. I know at least five places that have appropriated radios from the fifties, eighties music on the player, black and white portraits on the wall, war paraphernalia and communist iconography. Superficially this kind of thing provides ‘atmosphere,’ but it’s completely without meaning. The ‘Jazz bar’ name outside often conflicts with utterly random interior décor.

It’s plausible these bars in Krakow were named after those new bars in Dublin and London just to entice that segment of the market – the Easyjetsetters. The names here just seem cheesier because they are, and because of the language thing. Just think pop music from the Anglosphere and then, Europop? Think Lady Ga Ga and Doda.

Again, when I think of a great pub name, words that come to mind include: family, tradition, pride, place, history, theme, trust, loyalty and originality.

Here are some great pub names in Krakow:

Jama Michalika
Piekny Pies
Pod Jaszczurami
Pod Papugami

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19 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Also Propaganda. While it has a load of old crap on the wall, it is also clearly part of a theme.

    Personally, the only /bar/ listed I like is Alchemia. The Piekny Pies is a good name but is just another hole-in-the-wall. Buddah Bar, right on the square, is another place I like but is just as cramped as every other bar in town.

    I should also note that I feel there are NO pubs in town. Don’t pubs serve food, have little or no music, a bit of history about themselves, darts, regulars and bar staff that have clearly passed puberty? I don’t really know any places like that in Krakow. We have places that will serve you alcohol as long as you can pay for it for as long as you wish to stay …and we have restaurants that serve food and, of course, have a few beers available. Nothing in between.

    The no-pub phenomenon seems limited to Krakow. I know of a great pub in Gdynia so I know at least one exists in Poland …and I’ve been in great pubs in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia so I know other places have them.

    I want a place where I can get a bit of food, plenty of beer (a variety would be great) and don’t have to shout to be heard over the music that absolutely no one is dancing to or even paying attention to.

  2. Chris says:

    I’m not sure I like old style English names and heres why.They are misleading. Could I get my shoes repaired at the Cobblers Inn? No and I waited for hours. The Red Lion didnt even have a regular lion and I checked the ladies bog. No sign of a tree in the Royal Oak although my spirits were raised at the sign of a plant pot in the beer garden. It was full of fag buts. The Last Post is definately not in the business of delivering mail or playing small brass instruments for that matter.
    You know where you stand with simple names, the local/only pub near where I go whilst in Polska is called Red Pub. Its Red. Nuff said.

  3. Gabriela says:

    At least, that “anglophile translations” are well spelled. Here in Lima you can find some “Donut King’s”, “Deliciuos sandwichs” et al. The thing is to use as many apostrophes as possible (the more the merrier), Ks and Ws (not that usual in Spanish) among other examples, no matter if you are falling into childish mistakes.

  4. MikeM says:

    Brad: I think, coming from Ireland, I had a fixed notion of ‘the pub’ and I guess I miss that. And it’s a snobbish thing. I demand standard and definition from a pub. In a global sense, I suppose we have poetry and pubs to secure the national identity in the public discourse, like that’s our share of the cultural market. Our contribution.
    Krakow pubs consistently disappoint me. I love the look of them, the feel; I just don’t feel at ‘home’ in them. I feel I can’t just sit at the bar solo, and read a paper, there’s never enough light or the right music or the seat/bar is wrong. Feck, they’re just not like the pubs I’m used too. My idea of a pub is pretty much the same as yours and I certainly agree that the Piekny Pies is just a decent name; I really can’t stand the place. Propaganda is a great name and they do it well, but I just don’t like to hang out there. Have you been to Pietz, now that’s a good spot: great music at a nice level, atmospheric, great value beer (Okocim), not smoky but you can smoke, never too crowded.

    Gabriela: Latin America has a bit of a rep for dodgy Anglophile names. For the yanky dollar, you’ll have all sorts in Mexico, misspelled Irish bar names far south on the Pacific coast. Panama is the greatest offender with Sr Delicious and that smiling frog image. But, god bless, I have a soft spot for Latin America – love the place. Though I noticed, in Venezuela, outside Las Mercedes and other parts of East Caracas, there are very few pubs, eateries with English names.

  5. island1 says:

    I see the traditional Polandian comment section sidetrack emerging already – Where are all the good pubs? It’s definitely true. There are hundreds of them, but only about four that are worth going to more than once. I always make for Moliere on Szewska, although a lot of people deride me for it. I like it because it’s similar enough to a British pub (never been to Ireland) to feel comfortable and because it’s genuine. The regulars are locals, or at least Polish, and the place is an established performance venue, so it has a purpose. Also there are no random defunct radios or ironic posters of Lenin, which is a plus.

  6. MikeM says:

    “I see the traditional Polandian comment section sidetrack emerging already.”
    That gave me the first laugh of today, brilliant, thanks.
    I totally agree with your comment and you know, I’ve not been to Moliere yet. A few of us should meet up there for a night Soon…

  7. Jerzy Stachowiak says:

    The name “Gastro WARS” at the railway station in Krakow was far “better” than them:

    I’ve heard also of a restaurant by the English-Polish hybrid name of “Good Fart” somewhere in Poland (“fart” is a colloquial synonym for “luck” in Polish).

  8. Krzychu says:

    “I know of a great pub in Gdynia”

    Where is it?! Being from Gdynia, I do crave for a decent pub.

  9. Marta says:

    I think the reason why most Polish pubs are not really pubs in your understanding is that the idea is relatively new to us. I don’t think we had pubs before communism ended. I might be wrong though, as I’m a young lass ;)

    Greeting from a “lovely” town of Shannon, which has at least four real pubs :)

  10. Anonymous says:

    Singer is possibly my favourite place in Kraków. Mleczarnia is pretty cool too: it’s a bit pub-ish, you can get sandwiches and cake (actually you never get cake in traditional pubs) and the music isn’t too loud. Plus it has an awesome ‘beer garden’.
    One thing though: you would never, ever be able to buy herbal tea in a pub. Let’s celebrate the difference.

    ps, Jamie, your new avatar looks a bit like Jeremy Clarkson.

  11. pinolona says:

    oops sorry, that wasn’t meant to be anonymous, it was meant to be me.

  12. Chris says:

    I think it looks more like Lou Ferrigno, I just assumed you were a fan Island;-) lol

  13. guest says:

    The garden in the


    is also very nice in the summer. There is a cafe, if i remember right…

  14. island1 says:

    Don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry…

  15. island1 says:

    Damn, that’s not the first time I’ve been compared to Clarkson, there must be some truth in it.

  16. Lech says:

    There is:) Clarkson uses to comment cars designe but he is not car designer, you comment
    polish culture but you are not jurnalist,but to sum up your comments are funny so keep on.

  17. DeCoy says:

    There is also the pub called ‘Zaraz Wracam’, with the closest translation making it “I’ll be right back”. I remember seeing a bicycle frame (without the wheels) hung high on the wall.

    And there is a cafe called Decafensia, so it seems that the owners in general try to play on the words a bit, for those in Kraków at least.

  18. Highlander says:

    Avoid Hard Candy! I can not believe you are name dropping a pub that is run by the Russian Mafia.

    * WARNING *
    I was victim to a scam in Krakow involving Hard Candy and the drinks in this pub are the most expensive in the world!

    A group of 7 were seduced at 4am (after our party in the Prozak) by two beautiful women who invited us to join them to a student party, only for them to become lost and lead us to Hard Candy. The girls spoke English, Polish and Russian very well. Once entering the empty pub we sat in a cubicle with the girls and ordered drinks, the service was quick! and the bill was soon to follow, at our surprise we were being robbed! The price was extremely high as if the decimal place was wrong.

    We refused to pay the bill and the situation became heated. 7 of us emptied our wallets on the basis just to get out of there and this still did not cover the bill! A friend was ushered to a cash machine (ATM) while the rest of us struggled to escape.

    The bill was settled and we left, on leaving a local taxi driver pulled up and questioned what we were doing, did we not know that the Russian Mafia run the pub.

    I paid £25 GBP for a jackdaniels and coke!

    Be alert! Ensure you check the menu of every pub you enter!

  19. Kuba says:

    Same thing happens in Japan you go to a bar and sit down and in a second there are girls sitting with you and have already ordered drinks.
    Just need to say nie, no, neine, or wave your hand for them to leave.

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