Time has treated our city well, which is why, in Krakow, we like the “old”. Traces of times gone by can be found on every corner and read about in numerous meticulously detailed books and guides. Old objects, clothes and places are treasure troves of history—not the capital-H History, but rather that personal, simply human history that tickles our imagination and lets us enter past epochs for a while - no fancy technology needed. Today, we are inviting you to discover retro gems on your own. With a little help from us, that is.
Our starting point is the Main Market Square—not to be confused with the Old Town Market Square in Warsaw! Standing in its heart is the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), where Noworolski café (Rynek Główny 1), known as Noworol, enjoys its reign. The name of the place comes from the name of Jan Noworylski—a confectioner from Lviv, who—having completed training at the Gross’s Chocolate Factory in Lviv and at Sacher’s in Vienna—returned to Krakow with four kids, bought a confectionery in the Cloth Hall and, in 1912, transformed it into what was to become the most popular café in the city. Its elegant interior enthralled the elite of the time: curved furniture, deep purplish-red walls with white wooden panelling, crystal chandeliers, purple velvet sofas, Art Deco paintings and a smoking lounge with an enormous mirror attracted crowds, exploiting the fame of a neighboring artists’ mecca—Jama Michalika. The passing time hasn’t changed the place a bit. In an unchanged environment, you can enjoy coffee, a piece of cake, and—on scorching-hot days—sit outdoors and cherish the view of the towers of St. Mary’s Basilica.
Several dozen meters (and years) separates Noworol from Rio (ul. św. Jana 4), a café the size of a tissue opened in 1956. Designed according to fashion prevalent in the 1960s, its unchanged interior still looks great. Original furniture, wooden stools and an irregularly-shaped longish table for coffee lovers are the signs of the times. Fans of old-school design meet here for coffee with whipped cream and warm sweet buns.
Since there is more than one way to reach the Main Market Square, it may happen that you enter it from the side opposite the Cloth Hall and see the Krzysztofory Palace first (Rynek Główny 33). The palace boasts a long and rich history of cafés. In 1930, after the closing of Stanisław Rehman’s café, a well-known master confectioner Kazimierz Danek opened Europejska. Initially overflowing with Art Deco beauty of the 1930s, after the war the cafe transformed into a Viennese coffee house from the 1920s and hasn’t changed since. On our way to the Old Theatre we reach Jagiellonska street with Cukiernia Jagiellońska (a confectionery) dating back to 1933. From its inception, the place has attracted crowds hungry for Christmas layer cakes, kolachs with seasonal fruit, hand-made ice cream, gingerbread hearts, iced coffee with whipped cream and, in the summer, a glass of soda with homemade raspberry juice. In the 1990s, the confectionery was extended to accommodate a bourgeois cafe whose interior draws on the Art Nouveau-esque aura of the tenement house in which it is located. The cafe houses an exhibition of historic baking equipment of unknown purpose.
Now, let’s go straight to Żonglerka in the Salwator district (ul. Syrokomli 20). Opened relatively recently, the place has already written itself into the retro history of the city. This mini-bar and local culture center in one found its home in a modernist tenement house built in the interwar period (1936/1937). The facade of the house is decorated with a unique sgraffito depicting a juggling woman made by an exceptional Krakow-based graphic artist, Franciszek Seifert. His work inspired the graphic art inside the place as well as its name (Żonglerka is Polish for “a female juggler”). Here, surrounded by Polish modernist design artifacts, you can drink delicious natural wine and eat an unusual breakfast.
Art galleries in Krakow are not all about square meters of glass and perfectly white, ascetic spaces in the center of the city. On the contrary, extraordinary collections of contemporary art can be found hidden in apartments and attics, the fact often implied by the address in which the apartment number stands next to the street number. One of such places—the ones you reach by taking spiral stairs in the old tenement house—is Olympia Gallery located in Podgórze at Limanowskiego 24/4b, the district’s oldest street opened in the late 18th century. The gallery is a living legend, synonymous with art at its finest. Established by a mythical muse of the painters from the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, having moved from the Kazimierz district, it re-opened in an apartment whose “homelike atmosphere” lets us escape noisy streets in order to admire art. There is a balcony with a beautiful view, a tile stove, oak floor, and objects of everyday use. Hanging on the walls are the works from the exhibition taking place at the moment of your visit.
Like Podgórze, Kazimierz has its own gallery of contemporary art. Henryk Gallery (ul. Krakowska 9/7) is Krakow’s youngest art gallery hidden in a very old tenement house with characteristic arcades that used to house a place serving mead. Creaky wooden stairs lead us to an apartment where one of the rooms—there’s also a kitchen, a bathroom, and a hallway—exhibits work by one of Krakow-based young artists. Aleksander, the owner, talks about exhibited artists, art, and the gallery in a very entertaining and captivating way. It comes as no surprise, then, that in 2018 the gallery was named the best in Krakow by Beaux Arts magazine.
I like to say that OLD (design) is GOLD! Every time I come across a design gem from a past decade I feel euphoric to the extent an explorer must feel when they discover a new land. I often go to Miejsce (ul. Miodowa 4), a tiny store - they’re all tiny not because of their actual size, but because of the number of things covering one square meter—located in a shopping arcade joining Dietla with Miodowa. It’s a real mecca for the lovers of the sixties, Polish design, and quirky gifts. Every object, glass, lamp, and piece of furniture are original or after a thorough renovation. Located nearby you can find Antyki Józefa (ul. Bożego Ciała 10) - a store with bibelots and antiques whose shopping window holds me captive for minutes every time I go past it. It’s run by two sisters—Agnieszka i Małgosia—who love beautiful historic objects of everyday use, chic furniture, and jewelry. Wonderful advisors, they will show you delicate silver spoons, fragile porcelain figurines, and crystal glasses while sharing with you their knowledge of art history. Uliczka Staroci (ul. Krakowska 29) can be a real challenge for those who seek retro treasures. The abundance of things in this tiny store is truly breathtaking and impossible to go through in one day, which is why I strongly recommend becoming a regular visitor and earning yourself a chance to hunt a bargain.
The time has come for the body. You need no magic when one visit and a few retro clothes are enough to take you back in time. The atmosphere in vintage boutiques is always the same—all you can hear are muffled screams of happiness and things like: Have you seen THIS? And THIS?! My mother used to have one! Mum, you used to have it, remember?! Oh my, this one is like from a Madonna video! Well, traveling back in time can be exciting. If you don’t have much time, four 1980s vintage clothing stores, Flaming Vintage, located next to one another will offer more than enough goodies (Krakowska 10 and Starowiślna 16, 37 and 38). Traveling continues thanks to Kolorowe Nastroje (ul. Krowoderska 22) with their clothing gems of the month regularly published on Facebook and Vintage Style (Pl. Wszystkich Świętych 10), a teeny-tiny place in the center of the city for those of you looking for design clothes from the past decades or an evening gown straight from Parisian runways. Last but not least, Pavilon Vintage Butik (ul. Stradomska 9) offers an insanely wide selection of shoes, hats, jackets, coats, dazzlingly elegant gowns from every decade as well as retro jewelry. Exploring these shiny gems is like bathing in champagne—intoxicating!
Every citizen of Krakow dreams of exploring the richness and depth of a theater wardrobe—be it in the Old Theatre or Słowacki Theatre. Our imagination starts working; here we are, wearing Marie Antoinette’s fanciful crinolines or Louis XVI’s trunk hose, choosing blond curls over our short black hair, and putting on a top hat. To see what kinds of transformations have been taking place on theater stages in Krakow, go to Dom Rzemiosł/ the House of Theatre Crafts at Slowacki Theatre (ul. Radziwiłowska 3). The elegance of the building itself is truly captivating. Built in 1896, it entrances with its modernist silhouette and neo-Gothic elements. From its inception, the building has served as a storage space for theatre decorations and a place where one could rent costumes and props. As a way of commemorating the work of invisible artists and theatre craftspeople, the House of Theatre Crafts has recently been opened to the public, exhibiting a wealth of peculiar, mysterious, and surprising objects you can touch and try on if you want to immerse yourself in a theatrical reality. The exhibition takes the audience on a compelling journey to places they usually can’t access on their own, bringing them closer to a fascinating, yet unknown, world behind the curtain. Visitors can discover what a complex organism a theater really is and get to know the entire process of producing a play.
Dom Rzemiosł / the House of Theatre Crafts welcomes visitors:
Tuesday - Friday: 12.00 – 18.00.
Saturday: 11.00 – 14. 00
Entrance fee: 5 zł
If you make a request in advance, you can visit the storage of theater costumes located in the same building.
Text: Kasia Pilitowska
the House of Theatre Crafts