One of Warsaw’s most unique features, milk bars, or bar mleczny, emerged at the end of the 19th century and thrived during Soviet times, largely thanks to hefty state subsidies, as a no-frills, egalitarian, very Polish breed of cafeteria. Serving good, home-cooked meals for just a few zlotych, milk bars typically had menus based around dairy items, but they served other, non-dairy traditional Polish dishes as well. Sadly, less than 150 milk bars exist across the country today, down from 40,000 in their heyday, but those that remain are well worth a visit.
Today’s milk bars are a great place to sample traditional specialties like pierogi (dumplings), crepes with white cheese, noodles with wild blueberries and sugar, beef tripe, beef hash with beets, and pork cutlets with cucumber salad. Milk bars also excel at the great variety of traditional Polish soups, from chlodnik (aka cold beet soup) to Pomidorowka, a rich Polish tomato soup cooked in meat stock and served with either rice or potatoes. Warsaw’s milk bars offer visitors a real feel for Communist Poland, because most maintain their Soviet-era décor, as well as their spirit of egalitarianism, welcoming retirees, students, tourists, businessmen—everyone, really.
ul. Krasinskiego 36, Krasinskiego St. 36
At this lovely little time capsule in the Zoliborz district, the décor, the food, and sometimes even the staff, would not seem out of place in 1960s Warsaw. This is a great place for people watching over a plate of mushroom pierogi.
ul. Marszalkowska 10/16
Established in 1954, Prasowy is everything you want in a milk bar: cheap, easygoing, retro-cute, and delicious. Try the Golabki, minced pork mixed with onions and sticky rice in a cabbage roll, or cwikla, a Polish and Western Ukrainian salad similar to a relish made with grated beets and horseradish.
ul. Nowy Swiat 39, Nowy Swiat St. 39
This neighborhood gem is beloved for its Placki ziemniaczane, potato pancakes served with mushroom sauce, as well as delicious Nalesniki , thin crepes filled with soft cheese and topped with blueberries, cream, and a sprinkle of sugar.
Jerozolimskie Ave. 32, Emilii Plater St. 47,
Though the food feels Communist-era traditional, Mleczarnia Jerozolimska is actually a new establishment, part of a wave of nostalgia for Warsaw’s disappearing milk bar culture.
ul. Hoza 19, Hoza St. 19
One of the city’s most elegant milk bars, Bambino is known for its Zurek, traditional Polish sour soup, and for the pierogi leniwe, a sweet pierogi made with cottage cheese and sprinkled with sugar—a Polish must!