Coffee lovers will be in heaven in Bratislava, truly a city fueled by caffeine (which might be the thing I love most about it). Here again, the choices range from the traditional to the more modern. For time-honored grandeur, try Kaffee Mayer (Hlavné Námestie 4. Tel: +421-2-5441-1741. www.kaffeemayer.sk), the grandest coffeehouse in town. I have a seat at a clawfoot, marble-topped table under red/gold valanced curtains, admiring the teardrop chandeliers, striped booths, and large windows. From the astounding selection of desserts (marzipan cake, cream cakes, elaborate confections swathed in fruit, cream, or chocolate), I choose poppy seed/cherry strudel, which is dense, rich, and not overly sweet. Since they’re right on the main square, you’re going to walk by it a million times anyway. Definitely stop in on one of those trips, sit at a table right on the square, have a coffee and a cake, and suddenly you’ll be filled with the energy to continue your explorations.
Within a two-minute walk from Mayer, I discover Zeppelin (Sedlárska 10. Tel: +421-911-110-287. www.zeppelincafe.sk), a sweet little coffee shop and crafts store, where I sit at a wooden table among walls covered with hanging textiles and sip my espresso. I stop in later to get a couple of Bratislavský rožok pastries, one filled with walnuts and one with poppyseeds in the Slovak way, and they totally hit the spot. A few doors down lies Konditorei Kormuth (Sedlárska 8. Tel: +421-2-5443-2537. www.konditoreikormuth.sk), a traditional bakery/ café where you pay a set price and get your choice of two cakes and a drink to enjoy in an ornate room with marble-topped tables, frescoed walls, a chandelier in the shape of a man with a lantern, and carved wood panels.
Perhaps only I would walk for 15 minutes to see another coffeehouse, but I do love W Café (Grösslingová 62. Tel: +421-911-835-897. www.wcafe.sk), my ideal contemporary coffeehouse: wood floors, comfy banquettes, plants across the ceiling, nice art. It’s definitely a refuge from the world of tourists, and as much as I love the Old Town, it does feel good to get away and see Bratislava’s young people (there’s a university nearby) going about their daily lives. They offer a nice breakfast and lunch and great coffee too.
As for LGBTQ nightlife, there’s only a little. With Vienna’s booming nightlife less than 40 miles away, many will just head there for their carousing. While LBGTQ life in Slovakia is progressing, there’s a long way to go, says Roman Savotny of the invaluable Queer Slovakia, who notes that progress is difficult with “very low visibility and push from the LGBT community.” He’s hopeful, though, that things are changing: “I feel the shift in society, some kind of queer emancipation, but it’s very slow. That’s what I want to focus on. To help LGBTQ people by showing them diversity, freedom, and teaching them about self-esteem, selfempowerment and mutual respect.”
There are several LGBTQ parties in town, mainly sponsored by Queer Slovakia. Whether it’s Tutti Frutti oldies, the house music-oriented Homomat, or the intriguingly named Shame, Queer Slovakia’s parties, held at various locations, have always been the hottest game in town, drawing a mixed male/female and always fun crowd of several hundred people (not insignificant in a town this small without a hugely active nightlife scene). Check their website (www.queerslovakia.sk) to see what’s happening when you’re there, and whether parties have restarted post-pandemic. They also sponsor Tepláre Café (Zámocká 30. Tel: +421-905-135-218. www.queerslovakia.sk/teplaren-cafe), a tiny spot not far from the castle, which offers a quieter atmosphere and has presented such events as cabaret, a queer literature club, and queer travel evenings. Whatever is happening there (or even if there’s no event), the friendly and diverse crowd makes this a true community spot.
If it’s more of a dance club you’re looking for, try Apollon Club (Panenská 24. Tel: +421-948-900-092. www.apollon-gayclub.sk), an Old Town venue whose DJ-driven events like “Fun House” and “Frigays” have always attracted a mainly younger crowd to dance or just have a drink. Like many such spots, it really gets going as it gets later.
Whether I go out for a night on the town, or just have a relaxing evening, my ritual always includes a promenade around the historic center. It’s so quiet at night (the occasional bar notwithstanding), and there’s something very soothing and inspiring about a place with no cars. Here it’s all about the history and the people. You can walk around snapping nighttime photos and reveling in the sights, or stay up all night celebrating with the locals. There’s something so gorgeous about those hours when the vintage streetlights shine amber through their glass, casting an ineffably beautiful light on the venerable buildings, many of which are also illuminated. Couples stroll hand in hand along the stone streets or lift a glass at a sidewalk café as the sky darkens into a deep sapphire. For me, the point just as dusk turns into night is the most magical time, like something out of the least corny and most truly amazing storybook ever written. This is real magic, not just tourist magic (well, maybe a little). It’s why you have to come to Bratislava. It’s why you have to spend a couple of nights. Bratislava has the advantage of not being somewhere we’ve all visited a million times. It has the advantage of being new to us, awaiting our discovery.