I was born in Warsaw and I feel very attached to the city. In my 20s I moved to New York to do an internship at Proenza Schouler. My boyfriend, now my husband, wanted to stay in the US. But I always wanted to come back. It led to me launching a made-in-Poland accessories brand here. No one thinks of Poland when they think of bags or leather. Friends in fashion were asking, “Are you sure?” But it turned out to be a great idea. When we launched Chylak in 2014, we saw people with Polish surnames buying bags from all over the world, proud to support our business.

Chylak by the Old Orangery at Łazienki Królewskie Park
Chylak by the Old Orangery at Łazienki Królewskie Park © Zuzanna Szamocka

Warsaw is a city that embraces the new. When you start from nothing, you are used to change. My father worked as an urban planner, so he taught me a lot about Warsaw’s rebuilding after the second world war. If you look at pictures, it’s shocking – the city was non-existent. The planners had to decide: should we relocate the Polish capital and start again? But the spirit of the nation was to rebuild. The city changed again when the communist regime ended in 1989. I was born in 1987, so I can only remember when Poland was opening up, and people were able to have businesses after so many years. But the places I remember from my childhood aren’t here any more; most of the places I go to today are completely new.

One of the exceptions is the Hotel Bristol, which was built in 1900 and remarkably survived the war. Its café is filled with photographs of former guests, such as Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist and former prime minister. Paderewski co‑founded the hotel and, after Poland gained independence in 1918, held his first government session here. The café is a glamorous place to try the hotel’s famous Florentine biscuits.

Bar Rascal
Bar Rascal © PION Fotografia
Café Bristol at Hotel Bristol
Café Bristol at Hotel Bristol © Zuzanna Szamocka
Chylak in the University of Warsaw Botanic Garden
Chylak in the University of Warsaw Botanic Garden © Zuzanna Szamocka

I live in Warsaw’s Saska Kępa neighbourhood, which has many prewar, modernist buildings – a rarity in the city – and a village atmosphere. I like to pick up a coffee at Hałas and lemon ice cream for my daughter at Pallone (she could eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner). The best way to get around is on foot, and I love to walk across the river and through Łazienki Park. I recommend visiting ŻIH, the Jewish Historical Institute, which has a permanent exhibition called What We’ve Been Unable to Shout Out to the World, presenting the Ringelblum archives and testimonies of the Holocaust of Polish Jews. It also has a good bookshop with wonderful children’s books. And everybody should go to the Warsaw Rising Museum to understand the layers of the city.

Dishes at Bibenda
Dishes at Bibenda © Alicja Łabądź
Chylak at the Café Bristol
Chylak at the Café Bristol © Zuzanna Szamocka

There’s always a new restaurant opening, but I have my favourites near my office in the Śródmieście Południowe district. I go for lunch most days at Przegryź, which does great dumplings. Bianca Mozzarella is an Italian cheese shop and bistro run by some friends, and my daughter is such a fan that she learned all the Italian cheese names, so she’ll walk in and order stracciatella in her Italian accent. There is also Lupo Pasta Fresca, an Italian place with beautiful flower-shaped ravioli, and Bibenda, which reintroduced me to the Brussels sprouts I hated as a child. Bar Rascal, a natural wine bar with a lovely garden, is good for drinks. For a cosy dinner and wonderful risotto I like Alewino. And for a special occasion, Opasły Tom, next to the opera house, is always good.

The counter at Bianca Mozzarella
The counter at Bianca Mozzarella © Kateryna Kryvoshei
Chylak in Łazienki Park
Chylak in Łazienki Park © Zuzanna Szamocka

The best shopping area is Koszykowa street, where the Chylak store is. Jagg is great for vintage jewellery, Galilu has a very good selection of cosmetics and perfumes, Branik has beautiful marble coasters, trays and candle-holders, and there’s a nice clothing store called Wonders. I also like to support Dasha Katsurina Studio nearby, which represents Ukrainian fashion brands, and the family-owned bespoke tailor Zaremba, one of the few businesses that survived the war and communism. It has a lovely old-school café next door. I recommend visiting Ryszard Baryliński, who makes traditional handmade brushes for all different sorts of things – shoe brushes, shaving brushes. He’s the grandson of the founder, and the shop has been there for several generations.

Sometimes I dream about the old, lost Warsaw businesses, hoping that someone will try to renew them. I think Warsaw is a city where you always have to see the context and try to understand why the city looks like this. Even though sometimes it’s not beautiful, it’s chaotic, eclectic and always interesting.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article