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Review: New café to jazz-up night life

During the second Punic war between Rome and Cartheage, Hannibal, the legendarily cunning general from North Africa, attacked the Romans from the north, surprising and defeating them in a series of battles. Although never actually taking Carthage itself, he scared the wits out of its citizens when he reached the city walls, at which point someone, as the story goes, yelled "Hannibal ante portas!" (Hannibal is at the gate.).
Carried down through the ages in tandem with the Latin language, the story turned up several months ago in the pocket of an hoary old Slovak gentlemen doddering through Michalská brána (Michal's Gate) gate in the Bratislava Old Town. He had heard of a contest to name a new café just outside the city's old walls, but didn't have a computer with which to e-mail his answer in. But when the owners heard the name he suggested they knew they had a winner.


Café Ante Portas promises to offer an alternative to the local pub scene.
photo: Ján Lörincz

Café Ante Portas

Where: Michalská 26
English Menu: yes
Grand Opening: 3 June 8:00
Opening: Sun-Thu 8:00-24:00, Fri-Sat 10:00-24:00

During the second Punic war between Rome and Cartheage, Hannibal, the legendarily cunning general from North Africa, attacked the Romans from the north, surprising and defeating them in a series of battles. Although never actually taking Carthage itself, he scared the wits out of its citizens when he reached the city walls, at which point someone, as the story goes, yelled "Hannibal ante portas!" (Hannibal is at the gate.).

Carried down through the ages in tandem with the Latin language, the story turned up several months ago in the pocket of an hoary old Slovak gentlemen doddering through Michalská brána (Michal's Gate) gate in the Bratislava Old Town. He had heard of a contest to name a new café just outside the city's old walls, but didn't have a computer with which to e-mail his answer in. But when the owners heard the name he suggested they knew they had a winner.

Such circumstances seem a fine way for a café to get its name. And judging from a few short glimpses, Café Ante Portas seems likely to be a fine café.

At the very least, its a handsome place. Entering the establishment, guests are met first by a long, fetching wooden bar. The next two rooms are oblong rectangles with arched ceilings and wood floors; one is painted in Aztec orange and the other in a deep, stormy blue. An acute eye may notice the antique table and chair sets are all different - each was purchased from a different location in Slovakia.

Probably the most defining feature of Café Ante Portas, though, are the three enormous picture windows offering views of the busy walkway just outside Michalská brána. Even when there is nothing going on inside, some of the life of the city promises to infiltrate the scene.

The café's 20-something owners, however, are hoping that the life will instead spill out of their establishment. They intend for Café Ante Portas to be a cross between the rowdier fun of Bratislava's pubs and the more uptight sophistication of its cafés, ideally attracting a young, intellectual crowd. They say, for example, that in their café classic and modern jazz will replace the pop trash heard in most places around town.

Another thing setting the café apart will be that it serves breakfast - a rarity in Bratislava. After the mornings, a light menu of salads and sandwiches with an emphasis on vegetarian foods will be available for the rest of the day. The drink menu will be comprehensive, with a list of cocktails including such rarities as the 'Brandy Alexander' and 'Kennedy Fizz'.

To date - and granted they have yet to be jaded by the relentless toil of the food and beverage business - the owners seem genuinely interested in making whatever changes necessary to establish their café as a popular spot. Flyers asking for suggestions or complaints will be placed on every table. Apparently even prices are negotiable.

Café Ante Portas will have its grand opening on June 3 at 20:00. Saxophonist Peter Carterelli will play with a quintet and be joined for a set by Slovak singer Peter Lipa.

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