Chișinău is home to a young, creative and multilingual population and the meeting place between Russian and European bar cultures. If you’re looking for something with more soul than the modern terraces pumping out shisha and loud music, crawl your way through these top seven Chișinău bars.
Moldovans drink more per person than any other country in the world. Yes, of course there’s plenty of vodka. Yes, there’s a surprising variety of craft beer. But what many westerners don’t know is that Moldova is also famous for producing some of the world’s best quality wine. Why don’t we know? Because most of the good stuff still gets snapped up straight away and sent directly to Russia and the other old Eastern Bloc countries.
Smokehouse & Taproom 27
If you’re new in Chișinău, Smokehouse should be your first stop on any list of the best bars in the city. The international vibe draws everyone from outward-looking locals to just about every expat in the city; from the embassies to the NGOs to the passing, beer-minded traveller. There’s a pub quiz every Tuesday night at 19:00 that’s especially great for meeting people, and a long row of beer taps, almost all of them serving craft beer from Moldovan breweries like Litra and Labrewtory.
Taproom 27 nextdoor is for the slightly more serious beer enthusiast. You sacrifice food and beer snacks for a darker, quieter vibe that’s perfect for sampling brews and catching up with a mate. Try both sides of the wall and see which one’s your cup of…beer.
Strada Vasile Alecsandri 117/1
Cafenea „Pro Sănătate”
Head a couple of blocks away from the city centre and you’ll pass arguably the most welcoming bar in Chișinău. Just “Pro” to the locals, this one is run by Osama, a Palestinian refugee who after about 30 years finally got Moldovan citizenship. Every Thursday is plov night, where every guest is treated to multiple servings of this delicious Uzbek dish, on the house. In fact, there’s always a celebration going on, so don’t be surprised to be treated to a free slice of pizza or two with your beer. This LGBT-friendly “dive bar” is a safe space where absolutely everyone and everything is welcome as long as it’s not hate or violence. Here you’ll never fail to find a chill crowd of local musicians and creatives conversing long into the night. There’s no set closing time, but Osama usually calls it a day somewhere in the early hours. Oh, and they also have Litra on tap.
Strada Vasile Alecsandri 90, 1
If you came to Moldova to witness the hard-drinking locals in action, and take part in some high-quantity vodka consumption, you’ve hit the spot with Rock’n’Roll Café. This late-night, neon-lit haunt, also just round the corner from Smokehouse, leans more towards hard rock and metal fans, although like every bar in Moldova, you’ll be treated inexplicably to cooking shows on the big screen, all through the night. If you’ve never listened to Rammstein while watching pink icing being delicately applied to the base of a cake, well…
Stefan cel Mare si Sfant Boulevard 134
Speaking of “late-night”, no-one in Chișinău does closing time better than Brothers’. This vaguely Irish pub is a Moldovan institution, with even the terrace open and serving until six or seven in the morning. If you fancy watching the sun creep up and the daytime people emerge while you and your mates are still pounding back craft brews from local brewery, Beermaster S.A., and sharing the last scraps of what was an epic Ukranian meat platter, make your way up to Brothers’ Pub.
Mihai Eminescu Street 29
To get your fill of high-quality Moldavian wine at reasonable prices, there are two places you can’t miss: Embargo Wine and Carpe Diem. Unfortunately though, Carpe Diem is just a wine shop, not a bar, so didn’t make it onto this list. In Embargo you can sample and stock up on everything from the big names to little-known independent wineries, pairing them with local cheeses and freshly baked Moldovan pies and desserts. Look out for a dry red fetească neagră, or saperavi, which grows here even better than it does in Georgia.
Alexander Pushkin St 47/1
You might be wondering why a chain restaurant is on this list, but as any local will agree, no visit to Moldova is complete until you’ve ordered La Plăcinte’s tocană de porc, layered the mămăligă (polenta) with first cheese then sourcream and then drizzled it all with garlic dressing and followed the whole mouthful down with a generous swig of dry Moldovan red. In short, La Plăcinte is Moldovan cuisine.
Alexander Pushkin St 33
By this point it’s almost impossible that you haven’t passed by an extremely cool-looking bar right in the centre of the city beside the Ștefan cel Mare park and monument, seen cool-looking people drinking what looks like wine from ornate, cool-looking glasses and thought to yourself, “okay, I’m drinking in there tonight”. This bar is Piana Vyshnia. It’s small, but beautifully decorated and on a warm evening spills out onto the pavement in the balmy Chișinău air. The drink is actually a cherry-based liqueur. It’s delicious, but you’ll find that out for yourself, if you haven’t already.
Stefan cel Mare St 103