Tag Archives: Pub names

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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