Friday evening, 8.02 p.m., the entrance to The Museum’s Square. A crowd of people at the pedestrian crossing are waiting for the light to turn green. When it does, it seems like the transition from one side to the other will never end. I am exactly in the way of the flow. People pass me from all sides. Girls and boys, smiling and chatting, walk enthusiastically and make haste to get somewhere. Unsuspecting, I myself am drawn into the general merriment. The amusement and delight of youth is infectious.
The main streets in the center are teeming with people. Students coming from Hașdeu (the location of the Babes-Bolyai student residences) pour into the center. People from all over the city are slowly gathering until they man every seat in every bar.
The city’s nightlife is very intense. There are pubs and clubs on most of the central streets. However, if you do not take precautions, you may be left on the outside on a Friday or Saturday evening. You should either try to get downtown as early as 8 o’clock or make a reservation beforehand.
Once inside a bar, you will be surprised by the homey, purposefully neglected look, which most likely disguises the intention to boycott the overly-glossy, polished appearance of more expensive locales. The message they seem to send is: “This is a place for easy-going people!” With a rustic, shabby interior, they appeal mainly to bohemians. But even the more conservative can enjoy a special kind of experience if they keep an open mind. The Londoner will supposedly make you feel like you are sipping ale in an English pub. In L’Atelier (the French for “workshop”), the cardboard chairs and the doors thrown over a couple of chairs trying to pass for tables will make you feel like you are literally in a workshop.
This is actually a common trend among bar owners, to appeal to artistic themes. A new bar in Cluj-Napoca can’t just be new. It has to offer a completely new kind of experience. For instance, The Soviet was all the rage when it first opened and drew crowds of people every evening. The reason was that the setting played upon communist imagery, tapping into memories of Romania’s past. In Insomnia Cafe there has always been some kind of minimalist painting on the walls. The most notorious one depicted a sheep and a pig in a lurid position that probably made a lot of people want to throw a bucket of cold water over it!
Another place like this is Krajczar, a Hungarian pub in The Museum’s Square. You go up a set of ankle-twisting steps, and arrive at a wooden interior. A few tables are sprawled about and the walls are covered in pictures of famous musicians. The atmosphere is generally pleasant. But beware, because the odd folk song tends to make its way onto the playlist ever so often!
A pleasant bar that fosters a cozy and laid-back atmosphere is Klausen. It is a preferred location for many young people in Cluj, thanks mostly to its very comfortable armchairs and sofas. The walls are plastered with old pictures of the Cluj-Napoca center, which is a nice way to celebrate the history of the city.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the posh new bar called Charlie Pub. When you step inside, you are readily greeted by an accommodating waiter who promptly asks if you have a reservation. This is why most of us haven’t got further than the front door. So if this is a place you want to go to, make sure to make a reservation, preferably ahead of time!
Another proliferating tendency in Cluj-Napoca beside the appeal to artistic themes is the giving of foreign names to bars. It makes you feel like you could be anywhere in the world and it’s probably a welcome aid to foreigners trying to find their way. In this vein, we have Le General, La Gazette, Klausenburg, Flying Circus, The Shelter, Euphoria Music Hall, Euphoria Biergarten and the aforementioned Klausen etc.
A final bid for popularity is the recently developed mini-libraries. The campaign that promotes reading is quite big in Cluj-Napoca nowadays, and consequently, many bars have integrated bookcases into their setting. There are books available to anybody interested. However, there is an evident discrepancy between the purported encouragement of reading and the actual reading-impeding loud music.
All in all, Cluj-Napoca has an electrifying nightlife. It is probably that more alluring to foreigners who are experiencing it for the first time. But the locals are making the most of it as well. The city has much to offer to anybody looking to spend their time in an agreeable way.