More than a century since its first opening, the Gambrinus beerhouse, where Romanian artists would congregate at the beginning of the 20th century, has come back to life in the center of Bucharest. BR popped in to hear the story behind the grand opening from Alexandra Pop, marketing director of Gambrinus Brewery, over a beer.
By Oana Vasiliu
Once upon a time…
In Bucharest, Gambrinus beer enjoys a long tradition. Its history dates back to 1869 but it shot to fame in 1901, when the Romanian playwright and publicist Ion Luca Caragiale took it over, transforming the brewery into a location where theatergoers could debate the latest premieres at the nearby National Theater (now the Novotel Hotel, which preserves the entrance of the theater), as well as a meeting place for musicians, writers, journalists and politicians. “It was probably Caragiale’s best investment, as we all know that he didn’t know how to manage his funds,” says Pop. Unfortunately, the original building, on 4 Campineanu Street, was demolished in 1940. However, one year later someone named Naumescu reopened the brewery, with its initial feel and menu, on the ground floor of Palace Hotel (at the junction of Regina Elisabeta Boulevard and Brezoianu Street) named Cismigiu Hotel after World War II.
Last December, the Spanish developer Hercesa re-opened Bucharest’s landmark Hotel Cismigiu, entirely refurbished following a EUR 15 million investment. Hercesa bought the 100-year-old building in 2004 and started reconstruction works in 2008. The hotel’s exterior was refurbished according to the original design while the interior had to be entirely altered. Another EUR 150,000 was invested in the interior of the legendary brewery. The beerhouse kept the inter-war period décor, presenting images of Bucharest, Caragiale’s portrait, as well as pictures of other breweries owned by Heineken, the official beer served at Gambrinus Brewery. “Our architects tried to maintain the same décor as in the 20th century as far as possible, but unfortunately we weren’t able to find any pictures of the interior, just the exterior of the beerhouse,” added Pop.
The new owners adapted a statue of King Gambrinus himself, who overlooks the entire brewery from the top of the bar. “Here is a combination between the legend of King Gambrinus and the old brewery, all seasoned with Romanian dishes and contemporary liquors,” says Pop. The venue was opened in partnership with Heineken, and also provides food for tourists staying at Cismigiu Hotel. “Currently, we are open from 7am because we serve breakfast and other meals for guests of the hotel. There is a door which connects the brewery to the hotel, which make access much easier,” says the marketing manager. Despite the brewery’s name, currently it does not serve Gambrinus beer, which is also part of the Heineken portfolio.