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The Insiders' Guidebook to Bucharest

Five local creatives on the beauty behind the brutalism of the Romanian capital.

Carturesti Carusel bookstore; Palace of the Parliament; gardens of Mogooaia Palace; flower stalls

Clockwise from top left: The Carturesti Carusel bookstore is shelf-obsessed; the stately Palace of the Parliament; following a lead in the gardens of Mogooaia Palace, outside Bucharest; flower stalls spring up all over the city.

For intrepid travellers keen to explore a city’s hidden gems, the Romanian capital can prove tricky. Its cobblestoned streets twist and turn, then separate and sprawl, and those hidden gems… well, they stay pretty well hidden. The best way to visit Bucharest is on the arm of a local who knows all the coziest cafes, chicest boutiques and quaintest parks. No Bucharest bud? No sweat: We rounded up five of the city’s creative insiders to give us a peek at the beauty behind the brutalism.

Illustrations: Fabio Buonocore

Deschis Gastrobar; Bucharest Creative Cluster

Deschis Gastrobar and the Bucharest Creative Cluster

Răzvan Crișan
INSIDER
Răzvan Crișan
Entrepreneur and co-founder of the stylish, perpetually packed M60 café

“Bucharest isn’t grand, like Budapest or Prague – our communist leaders weren’t as gentle with the city’s architectural heritage. But behind all that concrete, there are exciting signs of the city’s rejuvenation, especially the Bucharest Creative Cluster. Five years ago, an ambitious group of entrepreneurs saved a derelict, Soviet-era cotton factory from demolition. Inside, Nod Makerspace, a shared workroom and wood shop, and Mater, the largest tool library in southeastern Europe, provide a hub for the city’s growing number of independent designers and craftspeople, who sell their products at regular markets in the building. On the rooftop, which overlooks the Dâmboviţa River, Deschis Gastrobar has cabanas and a sandbox that are a favourite of young families. There’s a great menu, too – I love the shrimp and avocado salad. It’s a short metro ride from the bustling downtown core but has a mellow, relaxed vibe.”

Splaiul Unirii 160, deschisgastrobar.ro

Ion Voicu Park

Ion Voicu Park (formally Ioanid)

Irina Pencea
INSIDER
Irina Pencea
Architect co-founder and managing partner of Jazz, an award-winning independent agency

“In the peaceful years before the first world war, the elite of Bucharest started looking to Paris for new ideas. Our architects trained there, brought back both art nouveau and beaux arts influences, and built so many French-inspired buildings that visitors dubbed the city the Paris of the East. Ion Voicu Park is a stunning artifact of that time: It was patterned after Paris’ Parc Monceau, with its ponds, winding trails and little wood-railed bridge. It’s one of the few places in Bucharest that has benches and lawns perfect for a picnic – although unlike the French, we tend to drink beer, not wine. It’s easy to miss because it’s almost entirely walled in by grand, French-style villas where the wealthy and powerful of the city have lived for over a century. There are only three gates, cut between the houses, making it extra-peaceful. I love the moment after passing between the houses when the greenery suddenly opens up in front of me. It’s amazing that it survived communism, when so many beautiful spaces were torn down and replaced by ugly concrete things. When I’m there, I feel like I’ve stepped into a romantic, bygone time.”

Str. Dumbrava Roșie 7

Expirat Nightclub

Expirat Nightclub

Ştefan Matei
INSIDER
Ştefan Matei
Lead singer of electro-indie-pop band Les Elephants Bizarres

“In Bucharest, you can always find a place to party, even at 2 a.m. on a Monday. Expirat, a 10-minute Uber ride from the city centre, is set in a warehouse that was originally built in 1887, taken over by the communists, then abandoned after the Romanian Revolution in 1989. The club makes a very good gin and tonic and great burgers, grilled à la plancha. For the past few years, on March 1st, my band, Les Elephants Bizarres, has held a concert to celebrate Mărţişor, which marks the triumph of spring over winter and nature’s rebirth. I like performing at Expirat because it feels like home: It’s a venue for just 500 people, so it’s more like an intimate concert in front of our friends. Plus, the sound system is really good.”

Str. Doctor Constantin Istrati 1, expirat.org

Meşteshukar Butiq (MBQ)

Meşteshukar Butiq (MBQ)

Livia Ivanovici
INSIDER
Livia Ivanovici
Architect, communication specialist and journalist

“In Bucharest, there’s a strong focus on contemporary design, fashion and home objects. MBQ, which opened three years ago in the centre of the city, is run by Andrei M. Georgescu, a social activist who works to preserve and promote Roma traditions. Everything sold there is made by craftspeople from marginalized groups, particularly the Roma, who have been discriminated against throughout Europe and other parts of the world. The Roma often live in transient communities and can have difficulty finding regular employment, so selling their traditional crafts – like feather-shaped earrings and silver bracelets inspired by the mythical Charana bird – helps provide an income. I’ve bought several things there, including a Roma poplar cooking spoon. Romanians like to cook with wooden spoons here because we think the wood adds to the flavour – in a nice way.”

Str. Edgar Quinet 7, mbq.ro

 

Downtown Design

MBQ owner Andrei M. Georgescu picks his top haunts.

Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urban Planning’s art gallery
“The city’s design revival is being led by Bucharest’s youth, and a good, free place to see their work (before they’re famous) is at the university’s gallery.”

Str. Academiei 18–20
 

M60
“Bucharest’s best café serves strong espressos in a room that looks Scandinavian, but the mid-century-modern furniture was designed and built in Romania.”

Str. D.I. Mendeleev 2
 

Pasajul Villacrosse
“This ornate, Parisian-style shopping arcade has a spectacular glass roof and a really good shisha lounge called Valea Regilor.”

Pasajul Macca

Pâine și Vin Restaurant

Pâine și Vin Restaurant

Corvin Cristian
INSIDER
Corvin Cristian
Architect and designer at the hospitality-focused firm Corvin Cristian Studio

“I’m not religious, but as a child, I went with my mother to many Eastern Orthodox churches. They’re Byzantine relics of our pre-communist past – all those onion domes and ornate murals – and they made a big impression on me. The monasteries are old sandstone buildings, often walled off from the rest of the world, with secluded courtyards. I was drawn to their austere simplicity and to the ritual of the Eucharist. They inspired my design for the restaurant Pâine și Vin, which translates to “bread and wine.” There are communal tables and no mirrors – that’s the way Romanian monks have lived for centuries. The Romanian wines are very good, and the wood-burning oven in the open-concept kitchen turns out bread-based foods like pizzas, flammkuchen and knekkebrod. It’s a deliciously carb-y menu.”

Str. Actor Ion Brezoianu 4, painesivin.ro

Tags

BUCHAREST     ROMANIA