My lust for art nouveau interiors found its match at the Hotel Bristol Column Bar in Warsaw. Everything about the space is what made the turn of the century concept of gesamtkunswerk (total work of art) a treasured part of architectural history. Original Otto Wagner lights dot the entire perimeter of the space, not only making the space seem taller and grander but also drawing the eye upward toward the stylized column capitals, painted geometric details, and original vintage sculpted glass light fixtures. The space is an eye-full, and with the pianist playing period pieces with the clinking of tea cups and light chatter of other lounge guests, the experience is nothing short of a magical step back in time.
The Hotel Bristol is one of the rare fortunate pieces of architecture in Warsaw that survived World War II. The city was nearly entirely obliterated by Nazi forces, but the 1950s reconstruction of its historical center and subsequent rebuilding of the rest of the city earned the city UNESCO recognition for its impressive restoration. The restoration is also testament to the courage and pride of the Polish people – reconstruction costs were paid for by a national tax rather than accepting restitution after the war.
Opened in 1901, the Hotel Bristol retains its original structure and interiors. The hotel is located in what was primarily a German-occupied part of the city and thus often hosted Germans and their guests, saving the hotel from the same end as the rest of the city. Today the hotel is one of the top luxury hotels in the city, hosting a myriad of international celebrities and political figures throughout the years. The experience is enhanced through a carefully crafted hybrid of traditional hospitality with nods to contemporary comfort and sensibilities.
The refined menu of loose-leaf teas at the Hotel Bristol offers something for every taste. My Italian guests are big fans of fruity and herbal infusions so most of them took dried fruit blends or the green tea with ginger. I opted for the loose leaf Earl Grey, a classical choice of black tea flavored with bergamot.
The savory and sweet menu of nibbles was served on elegant tiered serving dishes. The finger sandwiches included delicious goat’s cheese mousse with red onion compote, Polish ham and English mustard, Prawn cocktail, smoked salmon and with cream cheese, and egg mayonnaise. The second tier featured traditional English scones with clotted cream and a marvelous housemade preserve. The top tier presented a variety of bite-sized sweets, including panna cotta shooters, small cakes and fruit tarts. The sandwiches and sweets were delicious, but the scones were delectable and the berry preserve was fresh and incredibly flavorful.
I made our reservation over the phone and the voice on the other line was cheerful, friendly and hospitable. For me this is such an important first impression when I’m visiting a new place. As soon as we arrived at the Column Bar for our 4:00 reservation, it was a bit confusing where to go. The host desk was actually located on the far end of the room from the entrance, and it was vacant when we arrived. The only staff in the bar at the time was the bartender who was already engaged with another guest. We made our way to the host desk anyway to wait to be seated. Eventually the bartender seated us. We missed the coat check on the way in since it’s not clearly marked, so the bartender took our coats for us. It was a bit of a hiccup, but his friendly smile and demeanor still made for a pleasant welcome to afternoon tea.
Service was flawless the rest of the afternoon. The bartender was attentive but not invasive, as you know I like, and we felt taken care of. I additionally appreciated the tailored way the tea was delivered to our table: like clockwork, each identical white tea pot was placed in front of us with precise placement, demonstrating not only that the server knew how to set the round table for 5 guests but also that our orders had been taken attentively so that without interrupting our conversation each tea pot with the already steeping tea was placed in front of everyone in a clock-wise fashion. This kind of service is so subtle that I imagine it often goes unnoticed but when delivered correctly – it’s art.
As decadent as the afternoon tea and service was, for me the space is the most exceptional part of the experience. That same morning, we spent several hours walking around the city of Warsaw, learning the history through the city’s destruction and reconstruction. So the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in the hotel was a real treat.
The Column Bar is a rare example of surviving original art nouveau-style interiors in Warsaw: the geometric motifs painted on the ceiling; the fluted columns with stylized acanthus leaf capitals; intricate brass light features and floral-inspired motifs in virtually every design element. It is truly a feast for the eyes. You can’t help but imagine the parties held in this room, the celebrities that sipped tea and cocktails here, the history that was shaped between these walls. The pianist played both vintage and modern arrangements which further merged the past with the present, a tonic reminder of the historical significance steeped in the walls of this hotel.
I’m so grateful that my Italian family is willing to indulge me in my curiosities and join me on my quest through the world’s afternoon tea rituals.
My Italian family consists of: Fabrizio, my husband, is an IT specialist for a software company in Rome. Simone, Fabrizio’s cousin, is a lawyer, history buff, and football fanatic (for Juventus). Zio Francesco is Fabrizio’s uncle, who spent years as a pharmaceuticals rep and antique broker and later turned taxi driver. Serena is Simone’s long time girlfriend who’s really part of the family. She’s a building administrator for nearly 30 palazzi in Rome.
They’re a crazy bunch, and I’m so lucky to call them my family. This was their first traditional afternoon tea experience, and it was so much fun to share it with them. Especially in such a beautiful space. During our 3 short days in Warsaw, the 2 hours we spent at the Hotel Bristol turned out to be one of the major highlights of our trip for a touch of history, luxury, elegance, and design.
Hotel Bristol Warsaw | Column Bar
Address Krakowskie Przedmiescie 42/44 – Warsaw 00-325
Reservations +48 22 551 1832
Afternoon Tea served Thursday through Sunday; Thur – Friday 12:30 – 5pm, Sat – Sun 2 – 5pm (live pianist Fri – Sat 2 – 5pm)
Prices classic afternoon tea menus from 59 zł – 99zł/person (approx. €14 – €24)
Afternoon Tea on the Hotel Bristol’sWebsite
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