Legendary Wierzynek

Back in the year of our Lord 1364, Nicholas Wierzynek (a flamboyant Cracovian merchant who was noted for his flair for throwing tremendous parties) welcomed a panoply of monarchs to his mansion on the square. All the big names were there: Charlie of Luxemberg (the Holy Roman Emperor), Otto of Bavaria, Louis of Hungary and not forgetting the gallant Bolko of Swidnica and Boguslaw of Slupsk. The banquet was held at the request of the noble Polish King Kazimierz the Great, who was planning a crusade to beat up the dastardly Turks.

As it was, the mansion of Nicholas Wierzynek never entirely lost its tradition of fine food and fine wines. And in more recent times, the restaurant's classic interiors have hosted several more crowned heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II, Juan Carlos of Spain and Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia. Even some lowly commoners have been admitted from time to time, such as President George Bush and film director Stephen Spielberg. And in a grand echo of times past, a second historic meeting of world leaders was held here on 26th January 2005, attended by over a dozen heads of state from across the globe. On that memorable day, the distinguished guests included Prince Joachim of Denmark, President Katsav of Israel, President Viktor Yushchenko of the Ukraine and of course the Polish host, President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Today the restaurant is having something of a Renaissance. During the Cold War era, Wierzynek was in fact open but it's splendid halls were largely the preserve of communist apparatchiks and visiting state dignitaries. It was not until 2001 - when the restaurant ceased to be state owned - that Wierzynek began to shrug off its stiff, fusty image.

Under its new owners Wierzynek has several tricks up its sleeve. First and foremost there are the upper floors, which boast the Italianate Pompeii Room, the Tatra Room and the Knights Room. Ornate wooden ceilings and florid frescoes on the walls echo the era of Cracow's Golden Age. Here you can settle in for an encounter with some tasty Polish dishes, just as all those kings did six hundred years ago. That famed meeting was certainly not lacking in liquid refreshments, and you'll find a decent selection of wines to peruse today. Besides the Old World decor and the traditional Polish cuisine, a stunning view over the square wraps things up.

On a less formal note, visitors can head into the summer courtyard for a barbecue and a beer, or if Mother Nature is in a bad mood, you can saunter down into the medieval cellars. In these charming caverns you might give the house speciality a try - fondues. Regular jazz and popular music concerts are staged here at weekends. And back on the ground floor there is a cafe where you can kick back with an iced coffee or a cappuccino.

Will Wierzynek still be here in another 600 years time? Let's hope so.

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