Wander the streets of Bucharest and you’ll notice Romania’s capital is buzzing with summer gardens. Ever since the interwar era of belle époque villas and stately Neo-Romanian mansions, the garden terrace came to exist as a natural extension of a house – its beating heart where people would eat, drink and be merry for hours on end in a Balkans-meets-Mediterranean euphoria.
This bohemian outdoors tradition has moved on from private grounds and continues today in public bistros. From gastropubs and teahouses to beer gardens and jazz cafes, Bucharest’s delightfully hidden al fresco bars are an institution. We dare you to try them all. Chances are, as you’re reading this, three more are opening.
Sharing the address with Cărturești bookshop, Café Verona comes as an addition of the store, a green oasis hidden behind the stately belle époque villa housing the shop. Serving a creative array of lemonades and tasty desserts, this is arguably the most popular garden terrace in town. It also hosts book launches, exhibitions, concerts, and a slew of festivals, its most popular being the annual Street Delivery on the arty Arthur Verona Street.
Unless someone tells you, you’d never wander behind the weathered Știrbey Palace on Calea Victoriei looking for any trace of Eden. Enter the gate (only open after 4pm) and follow the footpath to its right until you encounter a green canopy of trees, so huge it seems more like a park than a beer garden. Hipsters swinging from hammocks, wooden tables and bohemian string lights adorning the space – it doesn’t get more idyllic than this. There’s no food served at Eden, however having takeaways delivered here works just fine. Grab a craft beer and indulge in some green therapy.
Further down on Calea Victoriei at number 115 lies another hidden garden, much smaller than Eden, but with the added bonus of a haunted house discovery. Peek inside the resplendent Monteoru House (if you’re lucky enough to find it open), where the grand if decayed interior will have you feeling like Alice in Wonderland stepping inside a time machine. A historical monument that housed the Union of Romanian Writers for decades, today it hosts cultural events and acts as background for music videos. To reach the terrace, go down the narrow lane on the left of the building.
Named after its own address, Dianei 4 is a great option for both its garden credentials and the striking romanticised decor, as exposed decaying walls were purposefully kept to tell the story of the house’s yesteryear. Come for the speciality coffee and daily brunch (10am to 3pm), or to get some work done under the hanging wisteria. Wi-fi works even outdoors and charging plugs can be found attached to trees. Yes, trees! Win-win.
Not far away, Merlock comes as the newest addition to the city’s covert garden bars. Tucked behind an imposing villa on Rosetti Street (which famously belonged to the aristocrat Sabina Brătianu Cantacuzino), this venue truly evokes the nostalgia of Bucharest’s interwar gardens. Opt for the grill dishes roasted outside – the best on the menu include mici (skinless sausages prepared after a 100-year-old recipe) – or the generous menu of the day, served between noon and 3pm Monday to Friday.
Keep your eyes open for the bright orange colour of a small entrance at Calea Grivitei 55. Follow two corridors to finally reach this green refuge in the back, a favourite for artists and creative types. Amidst exposed brick walls and a chill atmosphere, the platters keep coming as proof that food at this gastropub is just as tempting as its surroundings. Stay on for live music, indie movie screenings and other happenings.
Across from the grand Cercul Militar palace on Constantin Mille Street, in an inconspicuous entrance marked only by parked bikes, an urban haven reveals itself as you walk in, with lush ivy covering every wall. On the premises that housed the legendary Berlin restaurant during socialist years now stands Control Club, the epicentre of hipster culture in Bucharest and the best place in town for live indie rock and electronic music. Start with beers in the garden bar and continue with a bite at Alt Shift. Don’t miss out on half-priced drinks on Tuesdays after 10pm.
A more upscale choice in one of Bucharest’s posh neighbourhoods, Gradina Floreasca is located (as its name suggests) in Floreasca Park. It’s green, sprawling and in demand, and the sizable pool located in the middle makes for a refreshing ambience. Come for a dip during the day and for live music at night. Whether you choose to dine here or chill out on a sunbed by the pool, plan on spending a few hours. Check the website for free jazz concerts every Wednesday.
Don’t be surprised if you stop short at the sight of this garden concealed behind a nondescript metal gate on Calea Dorobanţi – a retreat of shade and green akin to a natural reserve. Reward yourself here after a long day at work, rocking in a hammock and with a sundowner cocktail in hand. Bring along friends, as the space at the bar is generous (and handsome) and so are the grounds.