Warsaw: Food for the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat

Entrance to Inn Under the Red Hog, a restaurant in Warsaw. i i

Warsaw's Inn Under the Red Hog dishes up hearty food and a delightful tale about its own history. Emily Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Harris, NPR
Entrance to Inn Under the Red Hog, a restaurant in Warsaw.

Warsaw's Inn Under the Red Hog dishes up hearty food and a delightful tale about its own history.

Emily Harris, NPR
A fresco of Marx, Engels and Lenin in the dining room. i i

According to the restaurant's "history," workers doing reconstruction uncovered a damaged fresco of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Repaired now, it's on display in the back dining room. Emily Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Harris, NPR
A fresco of Marx, Engels and Lenin in the dining room.

According to the restaurant's "history," workers doing reconstruction uncovered a damaged fresco of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Repaired now, it's on display in the back dining room.

Emily Harris, NPR
Wait staff clad in red ties are part of the Communist-era theme at Inn Under the Red Hog. i i

Wait staff clad in red ties are part of the Communist-era theme at Inn Under the Red Hog. Emily Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Harris, NPR
Wait staff clad in red ties are part of the Communist-era theme at Inn Under the Red Hog.

Wait staff clad in red ties are part of the Communist-era theme at Inn Under the Red Hog.

Emily Harris, NPR
Erich Honecker pork, cooked just the way his grandmother made it. i i

According to the menu, Erich's Pork Shank is cooked just the way former East German leader Erich Honecker's grandmother used to make it. Emily Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Harris, NPR
Erich Honecker pork, cooked just the way his grandmother made it.

According to the menu, Erich's Pork Shank is cooked just the way former East German leader Erich Honecker's grandmother used to make it.

Emily Harris, NPR
The dining room features long tables and red-cushioned booths. i i

Guests dine at long tables and red-cushioned booths. Emily Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Harris, NPR
The dining room features long tables and red-cushioned booths.

Guests dine at long tables and red-cushioned booths.

Emily Harris, NPR

Pass through the red door of the Inn Under the Red Hog and you enter a legend. The owners of the Warsaw restaurant have spun a marvelous yarn about its origins that makes dining there delightfully whimsical.

The tale begins "a long time ago, in the time of the Kings of Saxony," when an inn famous for its lavish food was built in what was then a simple village near Warsaw. It tells of rebellious, turn-of-the-century workers gathering to talk politics over beer, the inn's destruction — along with the rest of Warsaw — during World War II, and its grand but secret reopening by Communist Party dignitaries in the 1960s.

Dining in a Workers Paradise

That revival had to be secret, the story goes, because the restaurant was the site of luxurious dining unavailable to the proletariat in Poland's workers paradise. Communist apparatchiks and supreme leaders wined and dined, hidden in a basement below a nondescript bar, Magda.

Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev are said to have indulged in pork loin and chilled vodka, while ordinary citizens lined up to buy sausage from poorly stocked shops outside.

This rumored party playground closed quickly, according to Inn Under the Red Hog's creation story, after new press freedoms arrived with the fall of communism in 1989 and talk of the restaurant became "inconvenient" for certain political circles.

Communist-Era Ambience

In 2006, the current restaurant — a short cab ride or long walk from Warsaw's central train station, in a residential and commercial neighborhood off the tourist track — opened on the building's first floor. Long, wooden tables and red-cushioned booths replaced Magda's communist-era furnishings. The secret cellar party room is now part of the kitchen — and off limits to historical inspection.

The restaurant's upbeat soundtrack consists of pop hits that made it past the old censors. Heavy red drapes, period posters of socialist heroes, and staff in red ties continue the theme. The name, Inn Under the Red Hog, comes from the nickname the inn supposedly earned as a watering hole for early communist revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin.

Proletariat, Bourgeoisie Menus

Luckily, diners in the re-revitalized restaurant now eat like party leaders of old did. Although the menu is divided into dishes "for the proletariat" and for the "dignitaries and bourgeoisie," everybody gets good food — and lots of it.

Business is done at lunch over "Fidel's Cigars" — pork chops rolled into a cigar shape and served with spicy tomato sauce. In the evening, extended families dig into the pirogis — dumplings filled with meat or sauerkraut and mushroom for the proletariat; spinach and feta or a wild game and mushroom combination for the upper class.

One of the most popular dishes is Erich's Pork Shank, oven roasted in Bavarian caramel beer sauce — just the way former East German leader Erich Honecker's grandmother used to make, so the menu notes. The roasted half duck is also delicious, flavored with cherry, apple and beets.

Or you can just eat off the appetizer menu — and still come away stuffed. Cold appetizer proletariat offerings include lard with pickled cucumber; the dignitaries list features game pate.

The potato pancakes are deemed proletariat: The menu describes them as being made with "spuds from the best state-owned farms, bravely defended by the village people from an invasion of the American potato bug!"

The bourgeoisie Kolduny dumplings stuffed with lamb are rather delicate, once you've saved them from drowning in a sea of clarified butter. Beware, in general, of large chunks of garlic!

What's claimed to be Lenin's favorite bliny could hardly be: These are fat puff cakes, slightly crispy on each side, a far cry from the paper-thin style common in Moscow. The dough is slightly sour, and the caviar and salmon topping adds a bourgeoisie touch Lenin would certainly have wanted to keep secret.

The prices, too, are bourgeoisie: Dinner (appetizer, entree, dessert and a drink) costs $25 to $30 per person.

Truth or Fiction?

The staff isn't eager to set the record straight on the real story behind the restaurant. But when pressed, they claim there really are tunnels that lead from Inn Under the Red Hog to Warsaw's Palace of Culture, the architectural monstrosity that now edges on kitsch a few blocks away. The Palace of Culture was a gift from Stalin — and where all important party congresses were held.

They say neighbors saw shiny black Chaika luxury cars pull up during communist times — a sure sign of a dignitary hideaway. And they insist workers doing reconstruction uncovered a damaged fresco of Marx, Engels and Lenin. It was repaired and is now on display in the back dining room. Finding the hidden fresco seems to have provided the inspiration for the rest of this innovative restaurant.

The Inn Under the Red Hog (Oberza Pod Czerwonym Wieprzem) — Ul. Zalazna 68 (corner of Zelazna and Chlodna). 00-866 Warsaw, Poland. Telephone: 48-22-8503-144. Open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to midnight. Web site: http://www.czerwonywieprz.pl/. Reservations suggested, especially for groups.

Tip: The restaurant's "history" isn't printed on the English menu. But you can read it by clicking on the "News" link at the Web site.

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