To booze, or to be quiet

Local residents go on an offensive against Warsaw's top late-night cultural spots. And no one is better off.

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Here is the problem: center of Warsaw is full of apartment buildings, which are often co-op managed. For a nearby establishment to have a licence to sell alcohol, the relevant co-op needs to give permission. Residential co-ops don’t like parties outside their windows, even if its only for 4 months out of 12 (weather permitting). If they want to get rid of a pub/club/cafe, they revoke their permission for alcohol-sales licence when it comes to its renewal. Or they call in the city guards.

According to the owner of Chlodna 25, which recently found itself without alcohol on shelves, even a highly culture-focused program will not provide for a club-cafe without help from booze sales. Thus lack of licence tends to be a kiss of death, (Chlodna is still going, but it’s only been couple of months).

This week, a very popular spot called Warszawa Powiśle came under attack from complaints from local residents, resulting in the guard deciding to  request that the City revokes its alcohol license. This has caused an outrage, with several public figures (of varying status) speaking out in support of the club.

Powisle is very symptomatic success story in Warsaw’s recent revival (for that reason it was one of the places I recommended to Steve Keenan, of the Guardian).

It is a matter of last 4-5 years, that Warsaw became a city with any outdoors life. Several groups of young(ish) people took on few old and forgotten spots and established booming cafe-clubs (part cultural centre, part day-time cafe, part night club). Few Warsaw-centric culture-oriented NGOs also chipped in, dragging residents out of their homes and attempting to build a sense of community among people crammed so closely together in post-communist large-scale estates, as to make them hate each other’s guts.

One of these revived places was the old building of Powisle train station, which at times housed the homeless and drug addicts, rendering the nearby park rather impossible to use (friends who lived in the area report frequent sightings of exhibitionists). Then the club launched and became a huge success, as well as a central for wholesome, organic-coffee biking types by day, and river-side nightly explorers by night.

In fact it became a bit too big for its own good. The building itself is tiny, and the square outside serves as an outdoors section. The square and the park. And parts of the street. As its attended mostly by hipstery types in late teens/early 20s, people do tend to get drunk there beyond the point of “handling their fucking high” (a term used by director Kevin Smith, relating to one’s ability to not cause trouble when intoxicated).

One such person hung on me and my friend Julia last time we were there – from his pendulum-like sense of balance I sensed he should not be given any more booze. But it was all rather good-natured and we were left alone upon request. We had many more problems with middle-aged alcoholics roaming the streets free in the middle of the day, drunk of their heads, shouting obscenities at us, or assaulting us physically.

This is a problem. Drunk people tend to talk too loudly and litter. And if bushes are nearby, some of them will skip the queue to the toilet. A lot of people who reside in the centre moved in when it wasn’t yet the centre. They moved in when it was quiet – and they want it quiet, no matter what.

But this is also a problem because a lot of Poles, especially of older generations, are not used to the idea of different. The society, especially after WW II, considered itself mostly homogeneous (not that it necessarily was). All went to church Sunday, so it was no problem that people would be woken up by ubiquitous bell-ringing in the morning. They all drunk inside their very own flats. The issue of compromising  in the name of diversity is a novelty. And as such doesn’t go down so well. If I want quiet, it is my God-given right to have it; I don’t care whether exhibitionists are roaming the nearby park, because I sit at home.

This is worrisome, because the wave of freshness and excitement seems to be breaking in Warsaw, in what feels almost like Hunter Thompson-esque disappointment with the results of city activism.

We might miss Warsaw’s chance to be “the next Berlin” – these fashions end as quickly and randomly as they start. By the time we hit our 60s, those of us who were once invested in the progress of this town, might open our double-glazed windows and shout at the kids having fun outside.

PKP Powisle before the club came to life. Photo: Blago Tebi on Wikipedia (CC atb, sa)

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