- January 25, 2013
Venues in Vilnius: cafes and restaurants
Rudnicki’s café is also associated with a particular event of which Witold Rudziński tells in Wileńskie Rozmaitości (“Vilnius miscellany”):
A caricature drawn by Dangel was once published in Słowo. It depicted a geese with Hulewicz’s head and the caption wrote: “grey goose” (in Polish the phase “to boss around like a grey goose” means to lord it over others – translator’s note). The whole Vilnius froze in anticipation: How would Hulewicz react and how would the whole affair end?!
At first, there seemed to be no reaction whatsoever. The atmosphere began to be quite nervous in the editor’s office: “Didn’t we take it too far?” everyone asked themselves. One noon, several days later, Hulewicz entered Rudnicki’s café. He stopped before one of the tables and asked: “Mr. Dangel?”, “Eh… Yes. Why?”
In response, Hulewicz drew a whip from behind his back and bashed Dangel’s face with it.
Needless to say, Dangel immediately sent for his seconds, But Hulewicz did not accept the challenge, for the former was not a soldier. Several days later, and again at noon, a lively lady entered Rudnicki’s. She went up to one of the tables and asked: “Mr. Hulewicz?”
“Yes, madam. What can I do for you?”, said the man in question. “I am Mrs Dangel!” called the lady and bashed Hulewicz with an umbrella. And again, some days later, at noon, the same café was entered by Mieczysław Kochanowski (Kagan), a distinguished conductor of the Vilnius Operetta. At that time he usually had breaks from rehearsals with the orchestra and he used to spend them at Rudnicki’s with a cup of coffee.
“Half a black, as always!” he called, and opened Słowo. “Yes sir, Mr. conductor,” said the waiter and disappeared in the kitchen. Engrossed in reading, the conductor did not notice that he had been waiting for as long as ten minutes. The waiter, who looked quite alarmed, at last came round, but not to his table. “How’s my coffee?” asked Kochanowski. “Just a minute, Mr. conductor.”
Once again, the waiter disappeared in the kitchen. When the same situation repeated itself, Kochanowski exclaimed with irritation: “It is easier to get a facer around here than to get a cup of coffee!” Regrettably, Hulewicz left Vilnius. He was active on the radio until Warsaw’s surrender. He was one of the first to be captured by Germans and killed by the Gestapo. There was a lot of gossiping about Dangel during war, but most of the gossip resulted from simple misunderstandings. Anyhow, he was never seen or heard after the event.
Rudnicki owned yet another café in Vilnius. It was located on the corner of Trocka and Wileńska streets on the ground floor. The entrance was on the corner.
Rapolos Mackonis recalls that its interior was elegant and the buffet could satisfy the most demanding guests. However, the place was not lucrative, although its location and design were quite promising. In view of attracting guests from Green Sztrall, Rudnicki had opened the place in the strict city centre where commerce flourished. There was also a magistrate and a large hotel “Europa” near-by. But somehow the café did not attract as many guests as the owner wanted.
On Mickiewicza street next to “Lutnia” theatre there was yet another café called “Jugosławia,” and set up by Serbians. Mackonis writes that all waiters who worked there were handsome, black-haired men. As Alfred Kolator recalls, Jugosławia sold Turkish coffee with chick peas, which were used for coffee instead of chicory in Turkey and in the Balkans. Moreover, the café served Macedonian boza, a beloved drink of students from Stefan Batory University.
Students from Vilnius also frequented “Fromboli” on Mickiewicza streetIt was a sort of a confectionery where chocolate, coffee and tea was sold. Alfred Kolator writes that the shop looked like an old apothecary with almost no customers inside, although it was very well-stocked (it was rumoured that the shop served as a meeting place for freemasonry). The café consisted of two or three tables and some chairs where you could drink a cup of coffee. A nice lady would measure out a spoon, place it in a coffee grinder and spread beautiful aroma in the whole room. She would then serve it in a small cup. This would prevent the students from napping and help them concentrate. It was advised to visit Frombola before an exam provided that you took but one look at your notes. Success guaranteed.
Behind Rudnicki’s on Mickiewicza street there was a famous milk shop of Mrs Hejberowa. Kolator recalls that she sold excellent milk and dairy products. Farther ahead, in the direction of Orzeszkowa square on the corner of Śniadeckich and Mickiewicza streets there was a café owned by a Jew, Dorman, where you could drink good coffee or beer with thick froth on top and have delicious hot dogs. The bar was frequented mainly by Lithuanian and Belarusian students as well as less affluent clerks. According to Kolator, provided that you weren’t a Polonus, you would drink beer at Dorman whether you liked or disliked Jews. There were hardly any tables or chairs and the customers ate their hot dogs and drank beer standing, at chest-high shelves. The meat was one of its kind in the whole Vilnius and the beer came from a brewery of an archduke in Tychy and was particularly strong. The youth drank so-called haberbusch tea, which was beer from the brewery of Błażej Haberbusch in Warsaw.
Mickiewicza street was also famous for its eating places and restaurants. Kolator writes about aunty Dmochowska’s eating place. It was not a restaurant, nor an eating place, nor a canteen. It was simply aunty Dmochowska’s place. Her products were not bought; they came from her own estate. The diners were simply guests and they were treated as such, enjoying moderate prices for superb quality.
Those who fancied some beetroot borscht, real kapusniak or vegetable soup were never disappointed. Products used by Dmochowska were always fresh and grown on a farm. You could also have pork chops with fried potatoes, but the most distinguished dish of all was her soured milk served chilled with cream.
On the left side of Mickiewicza street after passing Jagiellońska street, there was a hotel called Georges, known to everyone as “Żorż.” Its project, designed by Tadeusz Rostworowski, was influenced by Renaissance and Baroque. It was quite an enormous building considering the size and architecture of Vilnius at the time. Burned down during the Second World War, its name was changed to Vilnius hotel. Today it is converted to apartments. Georges, or Żorż, for it used to be spelled this way, is remembered especially for its elegant restaurant. Even before 1914 it was renowned for its carnival dances. Both the tickets and the buffet were very expensive, as Stanisław Mianowski recalls. In the interwar period men mainly went to Żorż with their ladies.
Michał K. Pawlikowski writes in Wojna i Sezon that the tables were placed so close together that the guests not only had an opportunity to talk with their friends at other tables, but also to have a peek at other plates. According to Pawlikowski, Żorż was a family restaurant with an ambience of family gossip. When a stranger appeared, usually after taking a Calvinist divorce on the near-by Zawalna street, he was always greeted with animated murmur. Regular customers did not always have cash and when they couldn’t pay they signed their bills which were then hung on a hook above the cashier. Such meals on the tab were called “hook dinners.”
Alfred Kolator recalls that the place had a vast sitting area with stylish furniture from the belle époque, soft and covered in cream glitter, with wooden parts painted golden. The walls were decorated with golden cornices and the whole restaurant was usually half empty. Some of the dishes were: lobster soup, venison, rabbit, black grouse, pheasant, quail, hazel grouse (depending on the season), and everything the heart desired when it came to game. All that could be then washed down with jarzębiniak izdebski (a kind of fruit-flavoured vodka – translator’s note). For desert, even during Christmas, you could have fresh strawberries provided by famous gardeners from Vilnius: Kiec and Wagner.
Another restaurant on Mickiewicza street was called “Zacisze”. Currently a sculpture of a Lithuanian writer Žemaitė stands in its place. Zacisze restaurant was dubbed “Maciej’s” by its regular customers. It was the name of the restaurant’s owner, Maciej Kiełbuć. Zacisze was visited mainly by men for the sole purpose of drinking vodka. But it was also favoured by the Vilnius palaestra. Here, events called “barrister sausages” took place, traditionally organised by lawyers on the days of Bar Councils in Vilnius. The councils, functioning as part of Bar Associations in the interwar Poland, managed personal affairs of barristers as well as trainings, new articled clerks and disbarment. As Stanisław Mianowski recalls, barrister sausages were late dinners where, among various snacks and hot dishes, cooked sausage with sauerkraut was served.
This composition was supposed to symbolise carnival which usually fell on that time. The event takes its origins from the meetings of so-called Vilnius rogues. The society of rogues was a group of people from the Vilnius intelligentsia, who published Wiadomości Brukowe in years 1812-32 at the time of the former Vilnius University. The rogues, however, were active only between 1817 and 1822.
Alfred Kolator recalls that Zacisze served beef steak with onions, rump steak with horseradish and boeuf a la Stroganoff, all washed down with house vodka “maciejówka” or slivovitz. And when ladies were among the guests, as Kontuar writes, melba (ice cream with whipped cream – M.J.) was served along with mazagran (coffee beverage with sugar and cognac served chilled – M. J.) and liqueur for coffee.
On Mickiewicza street, between Zacisze restaurant and Wileńska street, there was also a restaurant called “Myśliwska,” which served game and organised dances in the evenings.
Tłumaczenie Aleksandra Christ w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Aleksandra Christ the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.