I’m not a great one for going by other people’s reviews. It’s all so subjective. I’ll happily take recommendations if you’ve been there and done that, but reviews left on social media sites? Nah! I’m more of a ‘I like the look of that’ or ‘Aren’t they clever’ or ‘I really need the loo’ type of person. Bratislava didn’t disappoint.
Hungry for something and not sure what that something was, we ventured into The Cut, not far from St Martin’s Gate. It was about 3.30 – too late for lunch, too early for dinner, so we had it to ourselves. I had a hankering for a fried egg, having missed breakfast, and I was craving some spinach. I’ve never much liked this ‘breakfast till 11’ thing and wasn’t at all hopeful that I’d find what I wanted. But I did. In the sides. Never before have I seen sides that included a single fried egg and some creamed spinach.
Sometime later, about 7, we fancied a glass of vino and dropped into Moj Bar. We fell into a couple of comfy armchairs as the place began to fill up. I wanted bubbly. Himself tried some of their own semi-dry white. As we sat and earwigged on conversations we couldn’t understand, moving began to seem less and less likely. Our neighbours ordered an antipasti plate and we figured why not. We added a ham and mozzarella piadina [an Italian flatbread that is tastier than a tortilla] and some more prosecco and dinner was sorted. The staff were helpful and friendly and the clientele local. The irony isn’t lost on me – a tourist in town wanting to avoid places other tourists go. It was a hard place to leave.
Bratislava is fast becoming a foodie attraction. There’s a monthly street food park outside the Old Market Hall that attracts the crowds. We were lucky to hit it the weekend we were there. The gyoza (Japenese dumplings) were delicious. They have an excellent recycling programme stewarded by a couple of serious faces who were stern in their directions as to what went in which bin.
There was also a big Street Food Festival going on in front of the National Theatre with live music on the main stage and a bevvy of food trucks to sample. Wanting something other than pulled pork or a burger, we went for dressed fries – himself had his with hoisin duck and I had mine with beef and cheese. And we had to try the gyoza here, too. Sadly, there was no recycling station though. They missed a trick.
Another great coffee find was the F. X. Messerschmidt. I wondered at the heads that dotted the walls and only later found out that F.X. was a sculptor famous for his character heads who lived on the square. The Pressburg-style coffee house is also home to the Museum of 17 November.
The 1989 revolution that toppled the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia and brought freedom and democracy to the two countries that emerged after it split, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is traditionally commemorated on November 17, when the first protests against the regime started.
Back to FX, though. His heads are quite something. The Getty Museum exhibited some of his pieces back in 2012. Check the website for some interesting history and audio explanations. A Hypocrite and a Slanderer appears to be on view at The Met.
Messerschmidt, the leading sculptor at the court in Vienna in the 1760s, was forced, for personal and professional reasons, to leave for the provinces and by 1777 had settled in Pressburg (today Bratislava). There he concentrated on a private series of heads, completing more than sixty in his preferred medium of tin alloy or in alabaster. While acknowledging the artistic tradition of exploring facial expressions and emotions, these Kopfstücke, or head pieces, as he called them, were highly original for their combination of realism and abstraction. Visitors to his studio observed the artist studying himself in a mirror. Some of the heads are straightforward self-portraits, smiling or frowning; others are satirical or comic, the sitter reacting to a strong odor or yawning widely. A few, such as this one, called “refusers” by an early critic for the way they deny contact with their surroundings, are deeply introspective.
If you’ve a gob on you, or if the weakness in you is very strong, head to Bukowski’s Bar down beside the Old Market Hall. It’s a late-night joint that opens during the day. THe man himself never set foot inside the door, nor apparently, did he ever visit Bratislava, but that didn’t stop three enterprising lads from putting words in his mouth and stories to their cocktails. They serve 50ml cocktails at €2.50 a piece – an excellent way to see what you like and what you don’t. Watching them being made is entertainment in itself.
Some years ago, I won Best Alternative in a Write like Bukowski competition in Budapest. Until the previous week, I’d thought he was a baseball player. I didn’t get the Alterative bit until an American woman in the audience congratulated me on my win saying, ‘Who’d have thought to give Bukowski a female voice’. It got mixed reviews from the few friends I shared it with – from nay to yeah but the experience means that I’m like a moth to a light bulb wherever I see his name mentioned.
We stayed in the Beigli Garden Hotel in the Old Town and enjoyed a great breakfast there both mornings. With fried eggs. No spinach though, but I can’t expect to have everything.