Central European countries do not typically provide the services and style of the Western nations. However, there are areas where you can experience something even better. For instance specialty coffee (or third wave) cafés, urban bistros and new concepts like food trucks or street-food markets. There is tremendous potential here more than anywhere else in the West as there are still substantial market gaps to fill in and a lack of traditions of some kind. Mainly, when we travel to Munich, Vienna or elsewhere in Austria or Germany, we have quite a hard time to find a decent specialty coffee or simple modern food of an international provenance. Fresh salads, simple soups, brunch-kind of food, vegetarian options, and another light fare. Let alone in an inspirational space, full of bright design, urban mags, jungle plants, hip music, etc. Let it be „hipster“ or not.
I love the idea of having a nice cup of coffee at my hand whenever and wherever I want without compromising the quality.
In this respect, you find Prague, Brno, Bratislava or Budapest a foodie’s heaven. Well, still of a Central European feeling, but a revelation. With all the choices and uncountable options. Take Bratislava. For its small size and small-town atmosphere, you will be astonished how many places offer specialty coffee (both espresso and filtered) and how many of them are at a world-class level. In the map below you can find all (for the time being) identified venues in Bratislava that offer a specialty coffee, among which I would recommend a following few just to illustrate my personal preference and my favorites.
In the historic city center, the choice is significant, but my go-to’s when I am in need of a delicious cup of coffee is FACH and Urban Bistro, both on the same street of Ventúrska and Michalská. And both, fortunately, provide excellent food for this touristy area, too. FACH offers a serene, Nordic-like space and fare, although of a high-end price range. Here you can also buy the rare artisanal bakery produce like sourdough bread, rolls and pastries to go (including cinnamon rolls, cardamon knots, and lemon bread).
Urban Bistro is more relaxed and less formal kind of a venue. If you prefer casual Australian feeling and stuff like eggs and avocados all day long and classic cheesecakes along your cuppa, this is your spot. Furthermore, lovely toiletries in the restrooms upstairs always make it a special treat. (By the way, when you go to the bathrooms, peep into the undistinguished „wardrobe“ in the hallway…)
If tired of touristy hotspots and want to enjoy Bratislava more like a local, head to the Presidential palace square. Through the bus stop passage under the Austrian Embassy, you will get to Panenská street, a charming and quiet narrow lane. Right at the building of the Goethe Institute, you will find a small cafe Kaffeehaus Goriffee with a lovely inner atrium. Sitting here in warmer months above a cup of coffee, cascara or tea, with some Dutch waffles or other small cakes, out of the bustle of the city is unique. And do not forget to fill up your flask or reusable coffee cup with freshly brewed coffee if you are heading to the railway station to depart by train. There will be no more specialty coffee spots anywhere near there.
But if you are not leaving Bratislava yet, walk down the Panenská street right to the end and turn right. There will be another inspirational specialty coffee cafe Sväg to go on Kozia street, much loved by the local people. This place has it all – beautiful design, good music, urban mags, great plants and, of course, great coffee. Plus, you can always grab something delicious to accompany your coffee if you like. Fancy for some home-made granola, open-faced sandwiches or banana bread with nut butter? Or check for occasional „vianočka“ (a sweet Slovak challah-type of bread). A slice or two of those with butter and jam is a Slovak breakfast staple.
Sväg to go has an older sister of the same name at the corner of the lovely city park Medická záhrada. It is tiny, that is why the name „to go,“ but if you plan to hit the park, pop in and just swoon away from its gorgeous urban jungle interior. This little shop must be visually the most attractive coffee place in Bratislava. A real „hidden gem.“ And do not forget to fill up your reusable coffee cup while going to the park.
If not precisely fond of plants, but fancy wood and more moderate environment, go to see another hidden-gem of Bratislava’s coffee scene – Mono café on Budovateľská street. Nestled in a quiet residential area, this is the coffee spot with the most exciting coffees from around the world to savor. And its charming lady barista Iris is a true legend in Bratislava.
Mono café is one of the three specialty coffee options around the Central Bus Station at Mlynské Nivy. Not far away from Mono café on the same street, there is a classic corner cafe Pán Králiček Priestor. Great for people watching or weekend brunches in this area. And to mention, Pán Králiček owns a couple of street coffee bikes, so if you spot any of them (with the Rabbit in a Hat logo) in the city (mainly on Poštová street or Šafárikovo námestie square), go ahead and refill your cup.
When traveling by bus, the most comfortable option for your coffee fix might be Alza café on the first floor of the temporary Central Bus Station building. The café is not in exactly inviting surroundings of Alza store department. However, the coffee here is excellent not only for your bus journey’s refill but also for the last minute meal. Check for their menus and a little tree in front of their bar.
The baristas of the Alza café, a cute married couple run another favorite specialty coffee venue in Bratislava. Mad Drop Coffee espresso & brew bar on Radlinská street is a bit punk, but its grassy backyard is a city’s secret spot, too, especially in summer. Nothing beats a sitting on a beach chair in the sun in this secluded garden, while sipping some great coffee.
Not far from Mad Drop you can find one of my favorite cafes called Light Roast Specialty Coffee. A small venue on a high traffic road Legionárska, leading towards the Main Railway Station has an indisputable Australian feel. Order a flat white and one of those homemade chocolate tartlets or carrot cake cupcakes. Or come for a weekend brunch (yes, avo toasts!), as Light Roast is among the few cafes in Bratislava open on weekends. I usually fill up my cup here before all my train journeys, and if you would like, you can also buy some coffee beans from the best roasteries in the world for your filter coffee. Light roast obviously.
In the opposite direction, if visiting let’s say Bratislava’s largest open-air market Miletičova, get your specialty coffee fix on Dulovo námestie square. There is a small bistro called Žufaňa (a ladle in colloquial Slovak) hidden in the ground floor of an old residential building. It feels very homey, and the food is homey, too. The whole concept of the bistro is „your grandma’s place“ and if you want to sample a real Slovak homecooked food like all the Slovaks tend to eat at home, here’s where you should try it. No bullshit, no trends, just a decent, humble fare. Give it a go and do not fear of any strange concoctions like thickened potato stews, poppy seed noodles or pork headcheese served with vinegar and raw onions. And yes, all kinds of gruel („kaša“ in Slovak), a Žufaňa’s signature dish, is a must.
As I have mentioned the open air market, you should see a newish indoor Fresh Market. Farther from the city center on Rožňavská road, this new Bratislava’s hotspot is home to our best-loved cafe. Brew Bar Café is located right behind the central staircase and is our go-to whenever we feel like having a flat white on Saturdays afternoon or anytime after shopping here. We also almost always buy here coffee beans for home as their selection is one of the best in town and we love it most. Besides, we like the coffee lovers community that is flocking around here.
Last, but not least, I have to mention our latest craze for the White Dragon cafe, opened recently in a new tech hub Binarium in the vicinity of a vast college area of Staré Grunty. White Dragon refers to the cult movie Blade Runner and provides a catering background for different kinds of events and projects. A fresh, modern and colorful space consists of a cafe, a canteen, and a bar, though the canteen is at the moment out of service. Hopefully, it will reopen soon, as we love coming here for a cup of coffee and would love to eat something, too. For instance, a creative noodle bar would fit here perfectly. By the way, if you wonder why are the brown coffee cups so light, they are made of the recycled coffee waste. Cool!
The choice of the specialty coffee venues in Bratislava is impressive. Some of them are actual cafes, some more of a restaurant (U Kubistu) or gelateria (Koun), but a couple of them double as a gallery (Dot. Espresso Bar) or an art bookshop (Art Books Coffee). Anyway, the specialty coffee does not rely on its exclusiveness and artisanal nature only, slowly it is hitting the streets and even the commercial shopping centers (Regal Coffee or Soho). I love the idea of having a nice cup of coffee at my hand whenever and wherever I want without compromising the quality. Now the question is how the cafes will fight for its customers and differentiate their offer and services to keep them coming back. Not only to survive but thrive and flourish. That would be a real challenge. But I am pleased to observe it and help to devour it along. So come on and join me, which cafes do you prefer and like? And why?