THE DISH: Warzsawa
Warzsawa//11 Kazanskaya Ulitsa//Open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. (until 4 a.m. on Friday//and Saturday)//Menu in Russian only//Coffee and snacks for two 430 rubles//($13.50)
Published: August 15, 2012 (Issue # 1722)
Categorizing Warszawa, a three-month-old self-titled “buffet” in the city center, is no easy task, (though it’s name can offer guidance) as it is unlike any other place in the city. In fact, it is so different that one cannot even be sure it is in St. Petersburg.
Located a few minutes-walk from Nevsky Prospekt, the place is easy to miss, and not only because of the street’s confusing house numbering system. It is virtually nondescript from the outside, with only a subtle inscription on the dark glass door guiding the way in.
Entering can be a disorienting experience for the unprepared, and a disappointing one for the cynical. The contrast to the gaudy St. Petersburg street and it’s typically flashy cafes is so strong that the initially perceived mood seems subdued — potentially even somber. A few seconds of acclimatization help guests to accept their new whereabouts, hundreds of kilometers away and a century back in time, in fin de siècle Eastern Europe.
Unobtrusive yet elegant, the first room is dominated by an old-fashioned bar counter made of dark wood and flanked by rickety wooden stools, behind which an antique cabinet holds a shiny collection of bottles and glasses. The dark green floral wallpaper and soft glow from the glass chandelier complete the setting and guarantee peace of mind. The second room continues the style, complete with unassuming burgundy wallpaper, a retro radio system and a half-dozen tables along a velvet-upholstered bench.
Warszawa is not a restaurant, as it only offers something to sip and snack on, yet its charm lies in precisely that: A magically warm environment away from the hustle and bustle of the city that provides a rare opportunity to catch your breath and relax. It is a perfect alternative to more boisterous establishments — a place to come in mid-afternoon for a slow coffee and newspaper, or after work for a beer with intimate company. Undoubtedly, the clatter of dining would irreparably disrupt the meticulously designed environment.
On offer are various types of coffee, starting at 80 rubles ($2.60) for an espresso, home-made desserts, Czech and German beers ranging between 150 and 200 rubles ($4.70 – $6.30) and two types of sandwiches.
The St. Petersburger favorite, kartoshka (70 rubles, $2.30), was moist and not overly sweet, with just the right note of brandy under the surface. The apple envelope was less fresh (70 rubles, $2.30), though the apple with cinnamon combination strongly complimented the coffee. Most impressive out of the small meal was the brie sandwich (130 rubles, $4). The subtle cheese was highlighted by honey, pears and Dijon mustard, while the sharp spinach gave just the right bite for something to chew on.
During the visit it became obvious that the patrons of Warszawa come here for something that isn’t listed on the menu; one group was engrossed in a game of scrabble (which included the barista after her shift was over), two friends were catching up over a beer, a couple was slowly passing the time in an embrace and two bearded types smoking pipes were playing a contemplative game of chess.
In addition to the board games and chess sets, Warszawa offers film screenings of art house classics every evening on the projector in the backroom, including titles by directors such as Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard and Roman Polanski. A complete list can be found on the café’s vkontakte page, which is the best way to get in touch with the place as it has no phone number. Later in the night, DJs play a refreshing mix of non-mainstream tracks. Open from 10 in the morning until 4 at night, it’s hard to imagine a better place to unwind and soak in a time when life wasn’t so complicated.