expat life

The Cluj guide to nightlife

If you’ve been reading the blog, you’d swear that my favorite activity is criticizing Romania. That’s actually my second favorite. My favourite thing to do is to take part in that night time ritual that’s been perfected in our country. It’s the one activity in which all Romanians are united par excelence, one that we can boast at doing better than any other nation on earth; partying. Luckily for us citizens of Cluj, we live in a city where a good time is served on a platter, especially during what I like to call, ‘Party Season’, when the city’s 100,000 temporary citizens, who are studying at one of the city’s fine universities, come back to town.

After a nice dinner at any of those fine establishments I mentioned in a previous post, you’re going to need to move a little, dance it off, or at least bar hop it off. You may want to keep track of the time – or not – either way, don’t expect the night to end when you’re kicked out of any club because of closing hours since they observe a strict policy of “open till last client”. Gotta love no Last Call. So without any more rambling, I’m going to introduce all the spots I can remember going to.

Club Midi – When it comes to clubs, I’ve been jaded for a long time. They all play the same music, contain humanoid beings who look like they got dressed up to go out and have a terrible time, and the inside pretty much all looks the same. But Midi’s different. You will never hear Rihanna at Midi (in picture). In fact, during ‘Party Season’, there’s a renowned DJ on the decks every weekend. Big names from seemingly all the quality electronic music labels have spent a night or two at Midi; John Digweed, Art Department, Thomas Melchior, Richie Hawtin, and the list goes on and on. The crowd is out primarily for the music, second for the party, and only partly to look good. One of the regular guests behind the desks, Steve Lawler, gives an apt description: “This is the perfect club. Amazing room, amazing sound, amazing light and run by people that live it and breathe it, and with undoubtedly the best crowd in the world. The Romanians know how to party!”

This place is an electronic music institution and hands down the best club in Cluj. As far as I’m concerned it tops the best club in Toronto, too (one spot ahead of Toronto’s Guverment at #26 in the DJ Mag Top 100 Clubs).

Janis – If you come to Cluj and you haven’t been to Janis, you haven’t been to Cluj. Located on Eroilor, it’s open every single night and it’s also busy every single night. I can best describe it as ‘The Happy Dungeon’. Beer flows freely and people are more likely to dance by hopping up and down with their hands up than by stepping or swaying to the rhythm. That can be explained by the Rock music that dominates the playlist and it might be a lot to take in without first having a couple of appetizer shots elsewhere. It’s a dependable party spot and will always hold a special place in my heart, this is where I found the sweetest girl in the world.

Janis La Stuf – Same ownership and same Happy Dungeon concept as the Eroilor Janis but it’s in Unirii next to Piata Muzeului and more crowded, more diverse (both the crowd and the music) and… bigger. To come here at its peak, you’ll need several warm-up shots, but the good part is you can grab them upstairs at Biblioteca Janis; a funked out, dim, pirate-den looking place with lots of wooden tables and books along the sides. It’s also open 24/7 (or appears to be) and very dependable when in need for a party. Janis Stuf is guaranteed to keep the party going while the sun’s coming up.

Diesel Club – Located in Unirii, this is the “fitze” spot in town – which means pretentious. It’s one of those ‘see and be seen’ places, but if you can find some space to move, you can have a really good time here. The DJ really knows how to get the best out of this crowd and people are friendlier than you’d think -they’re mostly Romanian after all and can’t help it. Its reputation stems from the fact that drinks are pricier than in most other clubs in the city, it supposedly attracts foreigners with money and therefore the gold-diggers slip into their stilettos and flock here every weekend. There could be some truth to that, but when you look around, there are a lot more people dancing and having a good time than scoping out the crowd and looking moody. I can’t knock it, I’ve enjoyed it here the few times I’ve been and it’s definitely worth it for the eye-candy.

After Eight – Seems like there’s something going on here every night, too bad that sometimes those goings on are fights between try hards and wannabe cool guys. The layout is extremely awkward when it’s crowded, music is a mix between Top 40 club beats and the latest Romanian chart toppers, while the crowd, well, they try hard. I might’ve liked this place ten years ago, but these days I’d prefer a LAN party to an After Eight party.

Obsession Club – Another fitze club, but it has some merits. For one, there are a couple of big acts a every month; in the past they’ve brought in Parov Stelar, ATB, Mark Knight, Hernan Catenao, and even the great Tiesto. When it’s not a concert night, it’s more or less the typical mega club. Loud music, lots of bottles, short skirts, high heels, nasty attitude. It’s at #36 on the DJ Mag Top 100 but I’m pretty sure they’re intending to climb up that ladder; it’s been in renovation mode all summer and the October grand re-opening is a highly anticipated event.

Phi 18 – The name should give you an indication that it’s oriented to the student crowd. It’s located across the road from Obsession and literally next to a series of student dorms in Zorilor. The crowd is a bit After Eight-ish but more chilled out and looking to enjoy the night. They have a variety of theme nights and the drinks are very cheap. You’ll stick out if you look older than 25 in here.

Bamboo Club – Located in Piata Mihai Viteazu, I find very little besides the location that differentiates this place from Obsession. I do remember being very impressed by the champion bartender of Romania. The man knew how to make a drink and didn’t mind showing off as he did it, while pouring at a rate of about ten rounds a minute. It’s got lots of space and very opulent decor, you can smell the fitze from the ground floor, but the models who frequent this place make for enlightening conversation -between the guys. Overall it’s one of those places with a sort of extra-over-the-top-atmosphere, the tacky crowd probably has something to do with it.

Euphoria Music Hall – More of a concert venue than a club, but not a bad place to party. I guess it probably depends on the night, but an indie band had finished playing the time I went and the crowd was very receptive to the eclectic mix of music; now Sweet Home Alabama now Still D.R.E, now some sort of fifties swing. Somewhat out of the way but not too far from the city center. I liked it.

Club The One – This place is funny. My first impression wasn’t a good one. Too small, music too loud, tiny bar area. But as the night got longer, my mood got better. It helped that I was with some people that I’d met volunteering for the Days of Cluj, so the takeaway is that you’re probably better off coming here with your own people than if you’re planning to meet people. Then again, meeting people anywhere in Romania is far from difficult.

My Way – Located next to Stuf, it’s got the same ownership as the Janis clubs, however this would be the ‘upscale’ version. Judging by the decor you’d be unlikely to agree with that label, but the prices, from an obligatory cover charge to the 20 lei cocktails, tend to contribute to making it one of the more expensive nights in Cluj. Basically, it’s like a Janis for the older and richer.

There are plenty of other nightspots in Cluj and I’m especially disappointed that I can’t speak for the main student hub on Piezisa because I’ve only pre-partied but never party partied there. With so many students around during Party Season, there are bound to be enough bars and clubs that subscribe to the dusk till dawn hours of operation. There are also places I don’t remember very clearly for obvious reasons, but all I can do to fix that is go back. That’s not going to be a problem, because in the heart of Transylvania, it’s always a thrill to be out at night.

By Matt Sampalean, Guest Writer 

Matt was born in Romania and grew up in a world of ration cards and clandestine Radio Free Europe broadcasts. He emigrated with his parents to Toronto, Canada in 1991 where he spent twenty years before returning to Romania as co-founder of a technology startup. When he’s not working he blogs about his experiences as a person with ‘bipolar nationality disorder’. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania -Insider.com.

photo source: clubmidi.ro