When you arrive in Bucharest for the first time, you are facing a challenging journey. Most of the city’s buildings preserve the eclectic style of the 19th century. The streets and the utilities are an ongoing work in progress, prolonged by the city’s bureaucracy. Restaurants and bars remain the only well organised attractions, thus leading you to an unique experience.
By Oana Vasiliu
The tragedy that killed 64 people in a fire that spread within seconds during a rock live concert rocked Romania and razed its blossoming music and club scene, which was gaining recognition as an international party destination and a cool destination that wouldn’t burn a hole in the pocket. The fire at Colectiv club transformed not only Bucharest nightlife, but Romania at large. The smoking ban law has passed and now you aren’t allowed to smoke inside anymore, safety regulations were adopted and the authorities are doing regular checkups to avoid another tragedy. Therefore, when in Bucharest you simply must taste a bit of the local music scene. Let’s go for a ride!
From the north to the Old City Center
As with the rest of the world, the Hard Rock Café (32 Kiseleff Avenue) is the place to be for a live gig with a local rock band, eating their famous burgers and drinking their one of kind cocktails.
Just next door is the cavernous Beraria H (32 Kiseleff Avenue), one of the biggest beerhouses in Eastern Europe. The menu is similar to any other beerhouse, but the venue is huge, offering over 1,500 seats. What’s more, local bands – recently famous or from the Communist period, like Formatia Azur, play gigs there every single night.
The small café from the Romanian Peasant Museum, called The Peasant’s Club (Clubul Taranului, 3 Monetariei Street) is one of the most colorful institutions of its kind, so unsurprisingly the club associated with the museum follows in its footsteps. Here there are regular concerts, plays and different cultural events almost every night, so it’s usually pretty full of an evening.
Going towards the Old City Center, on Victoriei Street, you can find Green Hours (120 Calea Victoriei), one of the oldest places in Bucharest with good, live music. Since opening in September 1994, Green Hours has offered a mix of jazz concerts, alternative theatre (Green Hours has its very own Teatrul Luni / Monday Theater) and various cultural events, from art exhibitions to hand made accessories fairs.
Just before you cross the street to feel the vibe of the historical centre, you can find what is probably Bucharest’s most famous underground bars, Control Club (4 Constantin Mille Street). From famous DJs to local hip-hop singers, every night there was a special lineup. They also have an outdoor garden area.
In his trilingual book on Lipscani, historian Eugen Istodor wrote of the main street of the Old Center, “It looks like a theatre setting, ready for a party which is always postponed: vintage scenery, wedding dresses, easy drugs, easy lovers, cheap and colourful gifts, antiques, crazy bicycles, all sorts of tea, ecological, organic, shawarma/kebab, mussels, narghiles, eccentricities, cool, small talk, euphoria, parties, drunk men, funny, takeaways, pubs and taverns for all pockets, but also an earthquake waiting around the corner, ready to turn everything to dust.” The book was released in 2011, but it’s still true.
For a traditional Romanian experience, there are a bunch of places to taste both goodies and music, such as Caru’ cu bere (5 Stavropoleos Street), Lacrimi si Sfinti (Sepcari Street) or Crama Domneasca (13 Selari Street). Here, almost every night a nice taraf (Romanian folk band) will sing an old Romanian song for you, especially about love and romance. The custom of the place is to honour the singer, called lăutar, with a tip, but it isn’t mandatory.
Secondly, a lot of promoters, boys and girls, will try to lure you into their club. The music is so loud and usually all of them are so crowded that we can’t name one place to have fun, you should pick one according to the music you like and which can be heard from the street.
A kind of unique place in this Old City is Tunes (16 Gabroveni Street), a rather small bar where everyone performs karaoke. Most of the “singers” are former participants at the Romanian versions of “X Factor” or “Romania’s got talent”, so every song seems like a private concert of the band you love.
Just across the street, quite hidden, is another underground spot recently opened, Manasia (13 Stela Spataru), a place which used to be a police station. Sometimes, the place hosts parties or film screenings.
Outside the city centre
Fabrica (50 11 Iunie Street) is another underground style bar. The space is quite unusual and has several bars and rooms inside. Here, local underground bands play. Drinks are cheap so it’s worth trying. Moving forward, a new place is the talk of the town, Expirat (1 Doctor Constantin Istrati Street). The club was previously found in the Old City Center, but after the tragedy the owners decided to close it down for safety reasons. Currently, the club is situated in on old hall (Halele Carol) where private parties used to take place. According to my Facebook newsfeed, the city’s most amazing underground parties have moved there.