On a recent trip to Poland I found myself in Krakow’s Nowa Huta neighborhood. Today it is essentially a suburb of Krakow, but once upon a time it was touted as the perfect communist society, a satellite Soviet utopia where everyone was employed by Vladimir Lenin Steelworks and lived in large block-style apartment buildings that were lined up to face Joseph Stalin Square. Funny story: they call it Ronald Reagan Square now.
It goes without saying that Nowa Huta has long been free of Soviet control. Recently it has been the site of a burgeoning art movement spearheaded by the experimental Łaźnia Nowa Theatre, leading some to refer to the area as Krakow’s Brooklyn. Still, the harsh block apartment buildings and imposing factories still give the area a sort of suppressive, eerie quality. It’s the kind of place where you feel the need to crack open a beer almost instinctively.
I happened to crack mine at a small, traditional Polish restaurant in the square. Outside it looked like a typical diner, but inside it was decorated with thick pink draperies, twinkle lights and what felt like fields of artificial flowers. The first drink on the menu to catch my eye was called “Desperados.” It was being marketed as “tequila-flavored beer.” I was so curious, that I pushed my better judgement aside, and decided to order a bottle.
I’ll begin by saying that I never finished the bottle. It was a red, frothy drink that contained Guarana and tasted something like Four Loko, and a bit like stale beer. As is, and should always be, the case with any mistaken drink order, I pushed the rest of the bottle off on friends. The whole table sampled it. Their reaction was one of similar disgust, but relief that the beer did not actually taste anything like Tequila. That would be not only revolting, but as unnatural as drinking something called “Desperados” somewhere in Central Europe, for which I was already kicking myself.
In the corner, as we moved on from our collective disappointment, there was a DJ setting up, and a group of older couples priming their disco legs. Yes, there was also a disco ball. A woman sang to the tune of the Bee Gees, but in Polish. A group formed a ring and danced around in circles. It wasn’t long before we reluctantly joined them, guided by a careless sense of adventure and by several middle-aged men who had skipped the Desperados for shooters of vodka, and couldn’t take no for an answer.