On the photo: "Łódzki" milk bar, Warsaw, 1971. Source: Wikipedia.
It’s your first time in Warsaw and you’ve decided to eat some authentic Polish cuisine, you (most probably) asked locals where it would be possible. Most Poles will respond pretty fast – there’s no better place to eat authentic Polish food than in Milky Bars! Okay then, is it some kind of place where you’ll drink... milk? The answer is – milk bars are one of a kind Polish canteens where you can eat cheap and good quality Polish food. We – Poles – love them and when we don’t have much time to cook and we want to eat something home-made, we will choose to go to a milk bar.
History of those places is pretty interesting, though not really known amongst people. The first milk bar appeared over a century ago – in 1896 in Warsaw. A man called Stanisław Dłużewski opened a vegetarian canteen (way before it was even fancy) located on Nowy Świat street. His idea was to sell cheap and fast food. Main ingredients of the plates would consist of milk, flour and eggs – that’s why Dłużewski decided to call it “Mleczarnia Nadświdrzańska” (Mleczarnia – Milk place in Polish language). His idea turned out to be amazing and more and more places like that would start to appear not only in Warsaw but outside of the city as well. Milk bars would get most of their fame during the communist era as they fit the then narrative perfectly – cheap (regular citizens wouldn’t earn much money), fast (the ideology says that the biggest value is work, so don’t waste it on silly things like enjoying food) and traditionally Polish.
Though communism ended in ’89, we still have milk bars all over the country. Some are modern, some are more than 60 years old, but they all try to cultivate the original vibe. Prices are usually really low – from 1E for a soup to 4-5E for an entire, 2 – course meal. Also be aware of few more things:
They don’t sell alcohols
Ladies that work there might be not like usual customer service that you’re used to – that’s also the relict of the communist times
There are no waiters/waitresses – self-service works pretty well
The unwritten rule is to eat fast – it’s kind of Polish fast-food bar
They usually close around 19:00
Down below you will find described 4 of my favorite milk bars in Warsaw – 2 modern ones and 2 ‘vintage’ ones
Mleczarnia, Jana Moliera 8 street
It’s definitely one of my favorite ones. Food they prepare is delicious, there is a wide range of dishes, lots of space to sit down and the esthetic that captures the eye ( it’s not a common thing when it comes to milk bars). Besides it all it’s located super close to the Old Town area (5 minutes far from the Castle square) so it’s a perfect spot to continue your adventure with Polish culture right after getting to know the beginnings of the city with Walkative! (tours around the Old Town run every morning).
Besides lunch, they also sell breakfasts (scramble eggs, ham toasts with coffee or tea) and in the evening they decrease prices of dishes.
Wegetariański Bar Mleczny, Aleje Jerozolimskie 30 street
The origins of milk bars were vegetarian, so this one is definitely coming back to its roots. Owned by the same brand as Mleczarnia (look above) but sells only vegetarian dishes – no soup is cooked on meat, no dish serves meat. They make traditional Polish dishes that normally consist of meat without it – with tofu for example. Definitely worth a try.
It is also a great place for breakfast.
Prasowy, Marszałkowska 10/16 street
Prasowy Bar is the oldest milk bar in the entire city. It appeared in Warsaw in 1956 and has been functioning ever since, so if you're a fan of authentic places, this is simply an obligation for you. There was a time when it was about to be closed – the owner was about to retire – but the place was so famous and people loved it so much, that one day during December 2011 they just entered and started to serve food themselves (true story). Therefore Prasowy functions till these days though a little bit differently – more modern but still with a vintage vibe. They serve typical Polish dishes. I love it and I honestly think that in Prasowy you’ll get THE BEST Polish food ever!
Bar Ząbkowski, Ząbkowska 2 street
Praga is considered to be the most authentic district of the city and so what can be even more authentic than a 60 years old milk bar on Ząbkowska street ? First of all, Ząbkowska is an obligatory point for every single traveler who would like to feel what the real Warsaw feels like. Second of all, right after entering Ząbkowska street you’ll see Ząbkowski bar and you’ll know it’s your spot. Not many things have changed since it was first opened (sometimes I even wonder if ladies who work there have changed?), food is one of the cheapest in the entire city and you can be sure you’ve experienced Warsaw as a local would!
Okay, that’s all for this article. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and you’ll try some of the best milk bars in Warsaw. Also remember, that Warsaw is not unique when it comes to this kind of bars – they are all over the country. So no matter where you are in Poland, go ahead, find your milk bar, order some pomidorówka, pierogi ruskie or placki po węgiersku and feel like a real Pole!
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