The Beer Cart, a living legend

Caru' cu Bere (The Beer Cart) is a living legend for Bucharest and one of the oldest tavern in the city, dating from 1879 in the old Zlătari Inn and after 20 years moved on Stavropoleos street, where there is today.

As the Peace treaty between Russians, Romanians and Turks was being signed in Berlin in 1878, a certain Ioan Cabasan bought a shabby house behind Zlătari Inn, on Stavropoleos lane. At the time, much of the Constantin Vodă Inn, which used to be there, had been demolished, so that, since 1861, before the house there was a nice large open area, opening onto the Stavropoleos and St. Ioan the Great inns. To the south, imposingly towering over the slums, was Nicolae Brâncoveanu's palace, from the gates of which the Mogoşoaia Bridge started.

For an entrepreneur, this open place was interesting enough, although the place was a dump. But soon more substantial incentives were to appear, such as the construction in the area of a wood panel circus named "Walhala", alternatively used by German artists - heavy beer drinkers - and by politicians. The construction of a tavern, "La pisica neagră" (Black Cat) and of a sweetshop, "Baltador", both located in the Zlătari Inn wing that opened onto Stavropoleos, will rapidly turn the area into a place with promising commercial potential. But another event was decisive. In the same year, 1878, a merchant from Bacau named Dumitru Marinescu was about to start the construction, in the neighborhood, of a brewery and spirits workshop, which will be finished in 1899 and will be known as the Bragadiru brewery. The owner was already looking for clients to sign sale-purchase contracts, and among them, among the very first perhaps, was Cabasan. Under circumstances so favorable to trade, the latter plucked up courage and went into business. On May Day in 1879, he opened a beer house in the building on Stavropoleos Lane, the second in Bucharest at the time, after the pub opened next to the former office of the "Justice-Brotherhood" secret society on Jignita lane. And he named it "La Caru cu bere" (The beer cart). The legend has it that the name of the pub came when the first cart of beer casks, coming from Dumitru Marinescu's new brewery stopped before the bar. Actually, the beer had been brought from Bragadiru village, where entrepreneur D. Marinescu had put together a makeshift beer refinery.

The fact is that this name, with a slightly out-of-date meaning and sound, was to share with the Capşa brothers' company a celebrity untouched by the passage of time. Nota bene: Cabasan was never a "supplier of the Crown!" Moreover, his name is mentioned in no anecdote or memoirs related to "Caru' cu bere." Every now and then, his name is mentioned in the newspapers of the time, but only in advertisements. It vanishes from almanacs around 1886, and after several years of absence the company is once again quoted, this time with new owners: Mircea brothers. A new era began. The new owners commissioned the plans for the reconstruction and redecoration of the pub to Austrian architect Siegfrid Kofezinsky. Radical reconstruction and improvement works begin in 1888 - the date is mentioned in several memoirs works - and were completed, with difficulties, only in 1924. The old, modest building was demolished completely, then the central building was erected, along with the cellar, the kitchen and the front part, in neo-Gothic style.

The interior is decorated in a refined combination of styles, with the Byzantine one represented by balconies and banisters, harmoniously combined with the gilded frescoes and the stained-glass windows in the Bavarian academic style. A statue of old Ghiţă the cellar man holding a lamp in his hand was added later at the end of the stairs, next to the balcony, and it affects nothing of the spectacular interior. The pub features were also changed, and starting 1902 it will be both a beer house and a restaurant, although ads tried to reassure the old customers that "special beer from the Bragadiru brewery is served all days and evenings, until after the late night shows". Brothers Nicolae, Ignat and Victor Mircea, born in Caţa village near Mediaţ, had new ideas, French rather than German. As far as the menu was concerned, customers from Transylvania, the most numerous over the years, found it similar to the one offered in the German taverns at home. Quite popular were the Prague sausages with horse radish, frankfurters, boeuf salad, mashed peas and the always present "small bottle" of "Lacrima Cristi" wine, which old Ghiţă the cellar man took care of for over one quarter of a century, in the pub cellar. Beer drinkers were offered drought beer directly from the cask. The Mircea brothers also imported from across the mountains the tidiness - "mama Zangor", the only woman employed in the pub, was in charge with this-and the attention paid to apprentices, waiters and cooks, who had several rooms to rest in.

These were notable differences from the other pubs in the Capital, which made "Caru cu bere" unique and ensured its unrivaled fame. Before the WW1 outbreak, one of the brothers, Victor, abandoned the family business and set up his own, competing beer house, specially for officers, under the new Military Palace inaugurated in 1912. Ads indicate that he took full advantage of the fame gained in "Caru cu bere," and he named his pub "the Victor Mircea beer house." An enterprising spirit, he was also the one who took over the management of the restaurant inside the Gara de Nord (railway station). Thus, the Stavropoleos pub was left with two owners only. Soon, Ignat was also to try to start his own business. With his brother Nicolae's support and advice, he bought a tavern and turned it, although at high costs, into a beer house named "Ignat Mircea." He too tried to take advantage of the fame that "Caru cu bere" had secured for the Mircea family. But he failed, and in 1929 the Romanian-British bank declared him bankrupt. And he didn't go down by himself. As he had guaranteed his brother's credit and the bank threatened to take away his pub, Nicolae made a desperate move and committed suicide, falling from the second floor above the cellar, as we learn from the newspapers of the time. Bucharest locals decried the misfortune, but equally honest was their concern with the future of the famous pub. Times were testing. And still, in those difficult times, the company and the beer house survived. Unfortunately, the ads make no reference to the new owner's name, the article published by 'Magazin Istoric', reads.

The pub served as mess for the German army in WW2. Apparently, the new owner did not interfere with the "house customs," which explains the popularity of the beer house among the German officers who chose the place as their mess between 1942 and 1944, just as it had happened in WW1. But then came the occupation by the barbaric Red Army and the abusive seizing of the pub, in 1948-1949 (the so-called "nationalization"). The Russian officers, bothered by the "German paintings," ordered that they be covered in red paint, so that everybody would know who the new master was, and that decorations be covered in white paint. Whether communist or apolitical, locals did not see the mutilation of the old beer house with a friendly eye, and shortly after Stalin's death, right in 1953, works are carried out to remove the red paint. The "decadence" lasted until 1986, when large-scale restoration works started, coordinated by painter Nicolae Gheorghe, who restored not only its past elegance, but also its lost dignity, at the expense of the "proletarian" clients.

Today The Beer Cart continues the tradition. Walking on Calea Victoriei (Victory Way), near the National Museum of History, meet a picturesque building, which you can read the inscription Caru cu Bere.