Vogue: Transylvania Sheds the Shadow of Dracula With Galleries, Cocktails, and Coffeeshops in Cluj-Napoca

Let’s Coffee is a small, minimalist space, with black walls brightened by white script and a bicycle on display. On a Saturday morning its wooden bar and bench are clustered with locals, most of whom, upon entry, say hello to proprietor Vasile Lupsac. Lupsac, wearing spectacles and a baseball cap, looks up from the La Marzocco Strada that churns out the café’s top-notch espresso, and greets them back. It’s an organic rhythm that continues all afternoon. Come evening, some of these guests will dine at VIA, which many consider the city’s finest restaurant, situated in an 18th-century house. More rustic than formal, it’s where salmon tartare paves the way for Thai beef risotto and a slab of carrot cake. Later, maybe, there will be a nightcap at Joben. The bistro’s meticulous steampunk décor—gears, metal tubes, booze bottles tucked inside a vintage television set—is enough of a reason to visit, but the smoked Old Fashioned truly encourages settling in. This is a day in Cluj-Napoca (often referred to Cluj), the unofficial capital of Transylvania and one of Eastern Europe’s most vibrant small cities—a reputation earned without the assistance of the fairy tales shrouding the region, says Vogue.com.

Few regions are as romanticized as central Romania’s Transylvania, with its scenic backdrop of Carpathian Mountains. Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror novel Dracula has falsely cemented the image of Transylvania as an ominous land rampant with vampires, crumbling turrets, and foreboding forests, and many visitors, in their haste to step into this storybook and get to the Dracula-famous Bran Castle, overlook less celebrated wonders that capture a true history more riveting than the myth. Descending deep into the centuries-old Turda Salt Mine, for instance, is transcendent. Spending time in Cluj—some 300 miles from the metropolises of Bucharest, Budapest, and Belgrade—where you can marvel at the Gothic and Baroque architecture in the compact city center and partake in the robust nightlife, also provides an intriguing, urban perspective on a legendary land.

“It’s a city that constantly vibrates, evolves, and interacts with its inhabitants,” says Zoltán Jakab, co-owner of the Cluj restaurant 1568 Bistro. Home to the summer music festivals Untold and Electric Castle, as well as the Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj is a cultural center as well as an academic hub comprised of 11 universities. The city’s decidedly youthful air is perhaps best experienced on Strada Piezisa, which is packed with boisterous bars that are largely student turf.

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