A NEW 5-PART SERIES DIRECT FROM THE CONTINENT
--- Words & Photos by DAWN MERMER
I have found it. Or rather, them. Many, many of them.
Imagine our beautiful The Lost Church as just the performance area within a sumptuous labyrinth of underground lush chambers, each one full of cozy, stylish early 19th century art and decor - swoon.
Krakow, Poland is full of places like this; it's remarkable really. I've never seen anything like this. And in multitude? There are so many I could describe, but I will focus on just one. The original one. My favorite one. Piwnica pod Baranami - The Cellar Under the Rams.
Piwnica is housed in the cellar of the Baranami Palace in Krakow's Main Market Square, which is the largest medieval square in Europe. It was founded by impresario Piotr Skrzynecki in 1956 as a literal and figurative underground space for artists and intellectuals to drink, discuss, play jazz, and perform literary and political cabaret as the country was being crushed by communism. "It was much more than a cabaret. It was a breath of freedom and of ironic distance to the reality which surrounded us," Skrzynecki famously said. When he died in 1997, he was nationally hailed as an artistic and political hero, and the Piwnica as the center of jazz and cabaret in Poland.
I was beyond excited to visit this venue I had heard so much about. I was in awe from the moment I descended the staircase and wandered the numerous chiseled inlets and chambers, hoping to sneak a peek into the stage area. It's Summer Jazz Festival, which Skrzynecki also founded and takes place all over the city.
It was early in the day, just after opening, when I buy my ticket at the bar for that night's performance. I didn't know or care who was performing, I just needed to experience this hallowed haunt. After the bartender sells me the ticket, she asks if I'd like a tip on where to sit in the performance space. Poles are notorious sweethearts.
"Of course, prosze"
She takes time to show me the 70-capacity room that you enter through an archway bearing a painting of Skrzynecki, and tells me her favorite spots.
"The bench in the back might be uncomfortable, but it sits above everyone else and it is right next to the sound person, so you are getting the best sound." The other place she points out has about a dozen seats facing the side of the stage.
"I like it here so I can watch them communicate with each other while they play."
When we file in that night, I choose the bench by the sound guy, who has to climb up, brushing past me, into the sound booth. She was right about the sound and the seat.
Many other Krakow venues followed in the 1960s and 70s, using Piwnica as inspiration in creating beautifully and thoughtfully curated old world spaces with excellent entertainment. The ones I stopped into like this were Piano Rouge, Harris Piano Jazz Bar, Piec Art Jazz Club, and Cafe Cabaret, but again I spent most of my time in Piwnica.
I feel a sense of contentment and satisfaction now that I have found some of TLC's European sister venues, and I'm so happy it happened to be in my ancestral home.
Next week...Part Five: Warsaw
Next week...Part Five: Warsaw