Walking through the door of a Polish Milk Bar is like walking back in time. The sparse furnishings, musty net curtains and almost complete lack of colour show that many milk bars missed the memo communism has fallen.
From 40,000 milk bars at the height of communism, only 150 remain today. With the lack of state subsidies and westernisation driving the need for a higher level of service and instagram worthy decor (We’re definitely those people) the number of people frequenting milk bars is on the decline.
It’s not only the decor that’s stuck in the communist era either. The service is decidedly gruff. The ladies working there have probably been there 30+ years, have a low tolerance for guests in general, and an even lower one for people who don’t speak Polish! Don’t expect a smile, any English or someone to clear your dishes.
Tips on visiting a Polish Milk Bar
For any tourist visiting Poland though, we would highly recommend visiting! Be sure though to follow a few key steps;
- Make sure you know what you want before you get to the counter. The menu will most likely be in Polish, either printed or on a blackboard.
- Take the ticket you’re given at the counter to the window to the kitchen. Food will be served up as it’s ready and you’ll need to take it to your table yourself.
- On the topic of food being served, don’t expect it to be presented. The women who work here are cafeteria cooks, not chefs.
- Clear your own dishes to the second window
- Your table isn’t your table. Don’t be surprised if someone comes to take a spare seat at your table. Yea it’s awkward, but all party of the experience.
Our Polish Milk Bar Experience
We shied away from the traditional Polish Milk Bar experience when we were in Krakow as we could afford to eat like kings, with a very small price tag. The food was also some of the best we’d had on the entire trip! But once we got to Warsaw we figured we had better give it a go. Our walking tour guide pointed out Bar Pod Barbekanem to us, it’s the oldest remaining milk bar in Poland and is conveniently located right near the entrance to the Old Town. We figured that if anywhere was going to be at least slightly tolerant of english speaking tourists it would be here.
We cautiously entered and milk bar and were immediately hit by how quiet the place was. Nobody seemed to come in groups, it’s more of a place you eat together, but alone. The only sound was the gruff voices of the ladies in the kitchen, no radio, no music.
Thankfully as we approached the counter we spotted 3 laminated sheets of paper with the menu in English. It was like we had struck gold! Approaching the lady at the counter we pointed out what we wanted, mushroom soup, mashed potato, Russian pierogi and 2x chicken schnitzel. All this came to the grand total of 36.5 zloty. We paid and took our docket over to the serving window. On the recommendation of a trip advisor review I opted not to interrupt the conversations happening in the kitchen and just wait for them to come. I think this was the right thing to do as the lady sorta, almost smiled when she took the docket. She then hit me with some rapid fire polish, I responded it “tuk” (yes) again on the recommendation on the internet. This satisfied her and off she went.
Our soup was quickly slopped into a bowl and banged onto the counter. The pierogi unceremoniously dumped onto their plate too. Taking these back to the table I returned and picked up the last remaining plate of chicken schnitzel and mashed potato (I’m guessing the question was if I wanted it all on one plate?). The lovely lady from the kitchen then snatched back my docket and slammed it onto a spike.
I thanked her and returned to my table. I think the smile I got in return wasn’t because she was happy to have helped but that she was happy I was gone and she could return to the conversation she’d been missing out on.
The food itself tasted much better than it looked! The mushroom soup was only lukewarm and had pasta in it so was probably our least favourite dish. Russian pierogi were very meaty
The chicken was the star of the day. Tasted just like the schnitzel we got in Vienna, but cost 3€ instead of 18€. Admittedly the restaurant we ate it in Vienna looked a little nicer too.
Our Warsaw Milk Bar experience was over and done with in 20 minutes, from the time we walked in to the time we left again. But it was
If you’re in Warsaw, try visiting Bar Pod Barbakanem. You’ll get the authentic terrible service and presentation, glum interior and delicious food for a tiny price!