The bars putting Bratislava on the cocktail map

Bratislava's bar scene might once have conjured images of noisy stag parties but in recent years it has undergone a reinvention. Kate Hawkings picks out the sophisticated bars putting the Slovakian capital on the radar of discerning drinkers

Words by Kate Hawkings

Bratislava cocktails at Mirror Bar
Some of the best cocktails in Bratislava are mixed at Mirror Bar

Less than a decade ago, the drinking scene in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital, was dominated by badly behaved British stag parties attracted to the city by cheap flights and cheaper booze. As was so common in central European countries released from their Soviet shackles, the streets were plagued by grubby bars, tacky cocktail joints, vertical-drinking nightclubs and all the antisocial behaviour they entail. Today, however, things have changed dramatically.

The pandemic helped to reset Bratislava’s drinking culture, with many low-quality venues closing in its aftermath. In the past few years, they have been replaced by some seriously chic bars and high-end restaurants whose sophistication – and high prices – are luring a different crowd. Bratislava is on the rise and discerning drinkers should take notice.

Bratislava is on the rise and discerning drinkers should take notice

The burgeoning Bratislava cocktail scene was celebrated earlier this month at the Mirror Hospitality Expo held in the Radisson Blu Carlton, an iconic hotel in the historic city centre. Brainchild of Stanislav Harciník, cocktail guru, author and global brand ambassador for Mirror Bar, the expo brought together more than 30 top-class bartenders and other industry professionals from all around the world. As well as taking guest slots at the beautiful Mirror Bar itself, some of the attendees also gave seminars and masterclasses focusing not just on creating and assessing incredible drinks, but also sharing knowledge of how best to navigate the choppy waters of today’s hospitality world.

Many of those attending were Slovaks with top jobs in other countries: Martin Siska, until very recently the head honcho at Scarfe’s Bar in London’s Rosewood Hotel; Rusty Červeň from Manhattan in Singapore; Adrian Michalcik, global world class bartender of the year 2022; and Martin Hudak of Sydney’s Maybe Sammy via the American Bar at the Savoy, to name but a few. ‘Slovaks regularly appear on lists of the world’s best bartenders,’ Harciník told me. ‘We are very hardworking, hospitable people and when we do something we want to be the very best at it.’

UFO Bratislava
The bar in the UFO Tower affords views across Bratislava and beyond

Naomi Hužovičová is a Japanese-Canadian foraging specialist who’s lived in Bratislava with her Slovak husband and children for 20 years. She is content director for The Cocktail Balance, Harciník’s online training and support platform for bartenders. ‘Because of living so long behind the Iron Curtain, people here seem to have the feeling that they are always behind,’ she says. ‘They want to catch up so they embrace current trends quickly in order to do that.’

‘Even two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed this could happen here,’ said Raiza Carrera, the Peruvian-born, Spanish-based woman last year voted Spain’s Best Bartender. ‘Bratislava wasn’t known internationally for its bar scene until very recently but now there are some great places. And the expo has been fantastic; this industry has so many huge egos working in it but this is a really supportive, inspiring group of people.’

Stanislav Harciník
Stanislav Harciník at Mirror Bar

As well as a slew of great bars, Bratislava has a thriving coffee scene, with roaster-led cafés that wouldn’t look out of place in Berlin, London or New York. This is encouraged by an enlightened council that is expanding a pedestrianisation programme to ban cars from the centre, with trees being planted and car parks turned into green, communal spaces.

The decades of Communist-era decline have been sharply reversed and now Bratislava is an attractive, dynamic city. The city’s economy is growing quickly and a youthful but urbane population are turning their backs on the lager louts and embracing a modern, cosmopolitan cocktail culture.

Four bars for cocktail lovers to visit in Bratislava

Mark Twain cocktail

Mirror Bar

The Mirror Bar is a beautiful space – dark and glamorous with forest green walls, velvet chairs, beveled glass doors and lush plants – in the newly renovated Radisson Blu Carlton, a grand hotel in the centre of the historic old town.

Now under the leadership of Peter Marcina, who secured the Mirror Bar’s place on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2023, its new cocktail menu – a work of art in itself – brings together history, nature, science and performance using custom-made glassware and theatrical props; presentation is as impressive as the drinks themselves.

Expect to find ingredients such as spiced coffee kombucha, seaweed cordial, peanut butter and almond milk, spruce tip, and activated charcoal put together in breathtaking ways. Try the Mark Twain Cold-Buttered Whisky (pictured), served in the tallest and most elegant coupe.


Bratislava cocktail bars

Sky Bar

Sky Bar was the first of  the modern Bratislava cocktail bars, opened in 2010 on the seventh floor of an unprepossessing office block just off the main square, high above the rowdy party action on the street below. Its enforced Covid closure was used as an opportunity for complete refurbishment and the sleek new bar and restaurant was reopened in 2022, including an eight-storey rooftop terrace bar. A high-concept cocktail menu scattered with weird and wonderful combinations is executed brilliantly. Go for something whacky like the Queen Margherita (vodka with fermented tomatoes and mozzarella) or play it rather safer and try the pitch-perfect, crystal-clear Paloma. The food – modern riffs on local classics – is good too.


Antique American Bar

Antique American Bar

Owned by Erik Lorincz, formerly of London’s American Bar at The Savoy and the man behind Kwãnt in Mayfair, the Antique American Bar was the first in Bratislava to appear in the World’s 50 Best Bars, in 2022. In a pretty, pistachio-green building with sunny windows and some outdoor tables on a pedestrianised shopping street, the focus here is on classics, done extremely well, including some using vintage bottles of iconic drinks. No bells and whistles here but immaculate service from white-jacketed waiters and perfectly balanced drinks. Multi-award-winning bartender Samantha Prachar heads up the team, along with Stefano Cattaneo, who created the ‘Not More Than 20’ winning drink of the international Campari Competition 2019. Campari, Tanqueray Old Tom, vintage Campari Cordial and peach-leaf liqueur makes a neat twist on a classic Negroni.


The bar at the UFO Tower


Opened in 1972 after five years of construction, this single-pylon bridge (still the longest in the world) with a space-age tower was officially named the ‘Bridge of Slovak National Uprising’ by the ruling Soviets. Locals immediately dubbed it the UFO Tower, for obvious reasons, and this is how its known today. The revolving restaurant and bar originally had a third of its view blocked off, preventing people from seeing across the Danube into Austria and the decadent West – the border is only 5km away. These days, it no longer revolves but the interior has been sleekly modernised and offers fantastic 360-degree views of Bratislava and beyond – on a clear day you can see for 100km. A trip to the tower is a must for any visit to the city; the drinks may not be as cutting-edge as some but it has a well-stocked bar and the view is indisputably the best in town.