Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Best Bars in Varna, Bulgaria!

As some of you may know, I recently did a stint working and living in Varna, Bulgaria’s beach city. While most people may know Varna for its proximity to Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, what do you do if you’re there in the winter? When the long strip of trendy seafront bars and clubs are all boarded up like a ghost town? When it’s minus nineteen outside (that’s degrees Celsius, my American chums) not to mention a fierce wind chill coming in across the Black Sea?

You go where the locals go, that’s what!

Here’s a list of some of the best bars in Varna, by someone who has tried them all…believe me.

360 – Barely a day went by without us frequenting this Varna favourite. First point of call for trying Bulgaria’s national drink – Rakia – and the country’s most popular beers – Zagorka and Kaminitsa – this trendy establish also does food, including the best burgers I (or anyone else who’s been there) have ever tasted. Choose from the Big Burger, which omits nothing (cheese, bacon, egg, mushrooms…the list goes on), the Blue Cheese Burger, Chicken Burger, the veggie offering known as the Fermerski (Farmer’s Burger) and consisting of a giant slab of delicious goats’ cheese topped with grilled Mediterranean vegetables, and more.

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Bolla – You either love it or hate it but either way, if you’re still out and looking for a bar in the early hours of the morning, you’re going there! An underground establishment tucked neatly down a back street just off the main drag, Bolla is easily the smokiest place I’ve ever been. Unlike 360, this one stays true to its country and serves strictly Bulgarian measures – that is, a full glass of Vodka, for only 2 lv…and that’s the “small”! Catch it on the right night and the party here has been known to go on long past sunrise the next day.

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Sun Dogs – For those looking for something more relaxed than Bolla and more down to earth than 360, Sun Dogs is the place. Discovered late into my stay, it is still unclear whether this place is, as some say, a British pub, or just a nice local bar. Suffice to say, it contains elements of both in equal proportions.

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Pench’s – An extremely rare find in Varna and the last place you expect to come across on a frosty, Soviet-esque night, Pench’s frequently holds the Guinness Book of World Record’s title for most cocktails served. Their cocktail menu is deeper and heavier than the Bible (indeed, some might even call it a Bible) and contains both Bulgarian and the English translation. Literally far too many to list here, the menu is organised into chapters based on the key spirit. The widely used cliché “there’s something for everybody” couldn’t be truer of Pench’s, not to mention the plush seating and free nuts!

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Cherno More – The prestigious Cherno More Hotel has been the de facto centre of Varna for decades. What is now the Starz Bar, located on the top floor and towering over the city, was one of the only drinking establishments open during the Communist era and a regular haunt of Varna’s elite. (I know, that should be an oxymoron…in theory.) Though a little on the pricey side for Bulgaria, Starz still retains its cabaret charm and you are paying for the exceptional view of the city and the entertainment, which goes on long into the night.

See the Cherno More Hotel website.

Vintage 33 - In the basement of the same building complex is one of my personal favourites. Vintage is on the fence between bar and club and you never know what you’re going to walk in on from one night to the next – from retro swing nights to some of the best live gigs I’ve ever been to. The only thing you can be sure of is they’ll try to sell you Jameson, which appears to be their number one sponsor.

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Underground – As the name suggests, this is another below-ground establishment. However, this time the name goes deeper. “Underground” is an ethos…an ideology if you will. This is definitely the place to meet locals and it is not an uncommon sight to see the bartender drinking, on both sides of the bar. One of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, this guy speaks English and is a huge live music fan. You’ll find everything in his “joint”, from American Blues to Baltic Folk and more. To find it, however, you have to enter the gate, go around the back of what appears to be an empty, unlit building, and open a heavy, soundproofed door, at which point you’ll hear the music and descend a dark passage of stairs. Usually there’s a tiny candle lit outside to let people know it’s open, however the general rule of thumb is, if the door opens, it’s open.

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Enjoy!

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