Drinking beer in Riga
A diary of some of the best bars in Riga, Latvia
27-29 November 2007
Tuesday 27 November
David, Glenys, Lawrence and I arrived safely to a snowy, blizzardy Riga at lunch time. We considered getting the bus to the hotel, but the weather was so bad we couldn't even be bothered to work out where the bus was so we caught a taxi.
A brief ten minutes to dump stuff off in the room and the four of us set off exploring.
Our first port of call was a bar called Runcis in the old town on Jana Seta, a medium sized bar in a small courtyard. Here we had our first sample of the local beers. The three we tried between us were: Tervetes Alus, a sweet, clear lager; Aldaris Zelta, a typical metallic tasting pilsner; and Aldaris Luksus, a much better pilsner without that horrible metallic taste.
Lawrence outside Runcis
The bar had wooden tables and chairs and a tiled floor. The guy behind the bar was friendly and helped us find some places we were looking for on the map.
The bar at Runcis
Glenys, Lawrence and David in Runcis
Next, we went in search of food and found it just outside the old town at Citi Laiki, a restaurant and bar on Brivibas Iela. The food was expensive for Latvia but very good. I started with sauerkraut soup which came with a whole potato in its skin. I followed with a pork steak with edible boletus (mushroom) sauce. It was an ok piece of pork but a bit salty.
I have to mention the waitress. She was very efficient, but didn't smile at all, and frowned at me when I helped myself to a menu and looked daggers at me when I photographed the bar. But she did remember all four of our orders without writing them down.
David signs the visitors' book at Citi Laiki
The beer was quite nice. I recommend the Lodina Gaisais, slightly sweet but with a noticeable hoppy taste. The Piebalgas Alus was a pleasant flavoursome lager, with a good bit of body. And the Cesu Premium was a pilsner with a bitter aftertaste.
The bar at Citi Laiki
The place again had wooden tables and chairs and had various vintage pictures of a rather dubious nature hidden away in alcoves and so on.
After lunch, we wandered about a bit in the cold and snow, and I stepped in a deep puddle and got wet feet. We stopped for a coffee to warm up at a noodle bar and planned our next drink. In a Riga pub guide I'd downloaded from the web we saw there was a Dutch bar called Amsterdama just around the corner, so we set off in search. Sadly, we found it was now part of a steak house chain and all Dutch bits had gone cowboy. But we braved the country & western music and had a beer there. The chairs were comfortable but the Jubilejas Gaisais Alus was another of those metallic pilsners, but I needed a drink to take my mind off wet feet, so I didn't care.
That night, the four of us set off in search of food and beer. Food was sorted at a station cafe where we had a help yourself buffet thing. I had vegetable soup followed by a mix of potatoes and pasta shells stuffed with something (not sure what), and all very tasty.
The first of the two pubs we visited was Starka Ligzda on Gleznotaju Iela. This bar has been decorated to look like an outside courtyard even though it is inside. The wall by the bar has two stained-glass windows that look like they are from the outside and the ceiling has a sky painted on it. The effect is somewhat ruined by the big screen television showing sports. The only beer of note was the Aldaris Luksus (nicknamed Lux), which we'd had earlier in the day. We had a drink each and Lawrence also had some dark local spirit that we tried a sip off - good on a cold day. As an aside, we found from an article in a local paper that the Aldaris brewery is actually in Riga.
Inside Starka Ligzda
The second bar of the night was a gem. It is a cellar bar called Belle Epoque on Maza Jaunavu. We met the governor, and he's called David Laurert.
David Lauret serving at Belle Epoque
The first thing you notice as you walk down the stairs is the back wall, which comprises a large French painting onto the wall itself, even handling the alcove. The bar is decorated with pictures of the Moulin Rouge and similar stuff. The place is a little bit trendy, but nicely laid back, chilled.
The back wall at Belle Epoque
There were three draught beers, all from the Lacplesis brewery. The Pils was what it said, a nice pilsner. The Tumsais was my favourite, a red coloured beer with a sharp fresh taste. The Gausais was slightly hazy and tasted a little bit tired. We also had a bottle of the Cesu Premium, which we'd tried on draught earlier. The advantage of a bottle is you can learn things from the label. The beer is 5.2% abv and the brewery, in Cesis, Latvia, claims to be the oldest in the Baltics and was founded in 1590.
Wednesday 28 November
After breakfast, we trudged through the snow to the south of the city in search of what is claimed to be Riga's only brewpub. It was quite a walk past loads of car showrooms, but we got there. It's called Lido Atputas on Krasta Iela and is in a large log cabin with a windmill attached.
Lido Atputas (you can just see Lawrence if you look closely)
The ground floor is a cafe where we had a coffee while waiting for the bar to open. This is downstairs along with a restaurant. The brewery is next to the bar, in fact part of it is in the bar. The bar was opened in 2000, but the building dates back to 1987.
The bar at Lido Atputas; you can see some of the brewery in the background
Me at the bar at Lido Atputas
There were three home brewed beers, all at 4.5%:
Lido Gaisais (Light): Pale beer with a light hoppy bitter taste
Lido Specialais (Special): Dark amber colour, malty hop taste, bitter after taste
Lido Medalus (Mead): Light, honey taste
The bar also did two other draught beers:
Ventspils Uzavas Light: Nice, sharp refreshing taste. Would be good on a hot day.
Ventspils Uzavas Dark: Bitter, red beer. Lawrence and David thought it had a caramel taste and smell, but I couldn't detect it.
Lawrence inspects the brewery at Lido Atputas
The second pub of the afternoon was Krievu Seta on Kengaraga Iela; this is also in the Lido chain even though it doesn't sell the Lido beers. It is tucked away on a small industrial estate and is built to resemble a Russian tavern.
The only beer was the Ventspils Uzavas Light. I sampled the food - a pork steak topped with cheese and fennel, which was OK but I got bored with it before I finished. Glenys had the vegetable soup. I wish I'd had the meatball soup.
Lawrence getting served at Krievu Seta
Afterwards, we took the tram into the old town.
I wanted to see the Cat House (Meistaru Iela), a 1910 building with two statues of black cats on the roof that have become a symbol of Riga. I was expecting bigger statues.
The ground floor is a bar called Melnais Kakis, which means Black Cat. This was a modern looking bar with three pool tables and table football.
The bar at Melnais Kakis
Like the previous pub, it had Ventspils Uzavas on draught as well as, ugh, Carlsberg. But the best was the range of four Aldaris beers, including the Luksus and Zelta, which we'd tried before, and the Kiss (4.5%) cider, which we didn't fancy. What was new for us was the Aldaris Kviesu (5.2%), an unfiltered cloudy wheat beer with a sharp, citrussy hit. Very nice indeed.
The pool room at Melnais Kakis
That night, we went to Traktieris, a Russian restaurant on Antonijas Iela. I started with a nice mutton soup, with lots of veg that smothered the mutton a bit. Next, wait for it, I couldn't resist and went for the bull's testicles. I've never had these before and wasn't sure what to expect. The plate consisted of mashed potato, salad and four testicles in the form of round patties in a batter with bits of veg in. The batter was not very nice. The testicles themselves were bland tasting, though there was a hint of kidney flavour. The mash potato was nice. I only had three of the testicles because - and I thought I'd never, ever say this - Lawrence ate one of my testicles.
Bull's testicles with mashed potato
They had three bottled beers on the menu, but one of them - Klinshoe - was not available. So we had the other two. The Starij Melnik (4.6%) is a metallic pilsner but the bottle had a nice picture of a windmill. The Baltika Nr 5 Gold (5.3%) was much better, crisp, light and slightly malty.
David and Lawrence at Traktieris
Also available were two draught beers - the Czech Krusovice (light beer with an odd aftertaste) and the Lacplesis Light, which we'd tried the previous night at Belle Epoque.
The bar at Traktieris
After leaving the restaurant, we headed for a Czech bar called Krodzin's Sveiks, Sveik on Stabu Iela. The menu listed two bottled beers - Pilsner Urquell and Budvar non-alcoholic. Not surprisingly, we didn't try the latter of those and we couldn't try the first because, amazingly for a Czech bar, they had no Pilsner Urquell.
Four draught beers were listed. One of the two Latvian beers was Ventspils Uzavas Light, which we'd tried before. The other was Bauskas Gaisais, a fairly non-descript pilsner. Three other Czech draught beers were listed. Glenys tried the Staropramen, the Kvasar (5.7%) was off and nobody bothered with the Kozel Dark.
The bar at Krodzin's
We were given free sunflower seeds.
We ended up having a very late night in Belle Epoque - I think we left about 3.30am. It is a really nice bar, I think our favourite of the ones we visited. We discovered how to pronounce two of the beers - Lacpleis (large place) and Cesu (say Sue).
I brought four bottles of beer back with me from Riga, all from the Cesu brewery.
A week later, the four of us who went to Riga sampled the bottled beers that we brought back. These were all from the Cesu brewery, as it was the only one that was on sale at the airport.
Cesu Extra - 5%. This came in an odd shaped 0.3 litre tapered bottle. It was fairly bog-standard light coloured pilsner, which was a shame given how interesting the bottle was. There was a slight, light hoppy taste that nearly rescued it.
Cesu Special Export - 5%. The bottle here was numbered - we had number 4,942,144. I wonder who had the 5 millionth bottle. The bottle also sported a very odd picture of a man with a tent. The beer was more gassy and more malty than the Extra, but still nothing special. Lawrence thought it had an aftertaste of of green vegetables, but he was on his own in that view.
Cesu Premium - 5.2%. The first thing that hit me while I was pouring it was the flowery aroma. It is a lager coloured beer and I was expecting a pilsner style, but it took me by surprise with a more interesting taste, slightly sweet but a little bit bitter at the back of the throat. Very drinkable.
Cesu Balsam Porter - 6%. As the name suggests, this was a dark beer, but rather a dark amber than black. It had a reddish tint too. A thin burnt flavour with a slight vanilla taste. The best of the Cesu bottled beers.
Some general pictures of Riga to prove we didn't just drink beer:
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