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Other Latvian-related
tourist articles: 

Rave/Dance Music
Latvian Opera
Wine: A Baltic Guide
Jewish Riga
What's in a name?
The Bear Slayer
Riga: No. 1!

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While there are still some suspect bars around, there are probably more good bars per city block in Riga than in the other two Baltic capitals. Latvians just seem to have a finer touch; they appear more capable of breathing soul and spirit into a place. Also see Wine, Cigar Lounges and  What’s to Drink, for a description of the better Latvian beers and liquors.    

Amsterdama: (I-4) Audeju 2, tel. 722-5697. Open:11-02. Quite well captures the spirit of old Holland: dark, oak tables, Dutch paintings and artifacts. The place is reminiscent of Tallinn’s Amsterdam Pub, with the exception that this one actually has windows. They do have a range of food, including spaghetti and eggplant, but it’s not spectacular.

A. Suns: (C-4) Elizabetes 83/85, in Berga Bazars; tel. 728-8418. Open:10-01; Sat.-Sun. 11-03. This is a lively pub/restaurant that’s been around for years. Good quality food at reasonable prices and a varied, ever-changing menu; the Tex-Mex dishes are particularly popular. A mixture of expats and locals gives this joint a rich, dynamic atmosphere. With a movie theater upstairs, this is a perfect place for before- and after-movie drinks.

Austrumu Robeza (Eastern Border): (I-3) Vagnera 8, the old city; tel. 781-4202. Open:12-02. Politically correct it’s not. There aren’t many places in the world where you can see a bust of Hitler--even if it is clearly put up as a joke, as here. To be fair, all the notable tyrants of the age, from Stalin to Lenin to Mao are amply represented and made fun of at this dangerously humorous rock bar/restaurant (Mischievously, there’s even a bust here of Russian President Vladimir Putin.) The fatigue-colored walls and wire caging add to the totalitarian kitsch of this place, which has the feel of a make-shift student hangout. The food here is run-of-the-mill, but the atmosphere is good--or at least unlike anything else in Riga. At night, they often feature live local rock bands on a tiny stage.

Bites Blues Club: (B-4) Dzirnavu 34a, to the northeast of the old city; tel. 733-3125. Open:12-01; Fri., Sat. 12-02; Sun. 12-24. An earthy blues club that wouldn’t feel out of place on the south side of Chicago. Frequent live bands. Good, finger-licking food: ribs to burgers.

Citas Debesis: (I-3) Skarnu 10/20, tel. 727-7021; in the old city. Open: from 09-02. A cheerful café/bar in what used to be the Babylon restaurant. The bright green, orange and pink plastic furniture and the red plastic balloon-like lights create a funky, fun-loving atmosphere in a medieval-era room. They serve a reasonably priced pub menu. It’s a good place for a drink, a cup of coffee, or a casual meal before going to a nightclub.  www.citasdebesis.lv 

De Lacy’s: (H-2) Skunu iela 4, tel. 722-9045. This pub gets points for Irishness, a good value food menu and colorful expats who have made it their second home. The downsides are hordes of stag party drunks and rude staff. Worth stopping in for a pint but it is going down hill.

EIGHT Lounge & Bar: (I-2) Grecinieku 9/1, old city; tel. 721-3087. Open:11-01; Fri., Sat. 11-02. English-themed (I-4) Valnu 19 (entrance from Gleznotaju) Eight has a self-described “chill-out mood” where you can sip an apple martini, Hemingway Daiquiri, or a sea-buckthorn Mojito. And if the place is anything like its sister club in Tallinn, the food will be quite good, too. Free wireless internet is rare in Riga, as well. www.lounge8.lv 

Dickens Pub: (I-2) Grecinieku 9/1, old city; tel. 721-3087. Open:11-01; Fri., Sat. 11-02. English-themed Dickens is one of Riga’s more popular pubs and a major draw to many foreigners living in the capital. On any given night it is likely to be crowded with bubbly ex-pats, mingled with lots of local Latvians. It is a great place to network or to begin making some new friends if you’re new in town. Dickens, with an impressive array of beers on tap, comes complete with the ubiquitous dart board and a bar TV usually tuned to a sport channel. They also serve traditional fish & chips with real malt vinegar. There’s also a good, old-English feeling restaurant in the back, distinguished by red and yellow colors, stately paintings and a fireplace. It’s also popular. www.dickens.lv 

Fizzes: (H-2) Torna 4 (in Jacob’s Barracks), tel. 722-4165. Open: 10-02. This new, trendy lemon-and-chrome cocktail bar should be a big draw card for the beautiful people. The food offerings of meat, pasta and salad are good value for Old Riga.

Jack Daniel’s: (I-3) Kaleju 3/5. Open:11-whenever. As the name suggests, they serve Jack Daniel’s whiskey straight up or in cocktail you’d like. Surprisingly, there’s also a hefty offering of Japanese drinks—perhaps Mr. Jack loved Japan? A picture-menu helps you order after you’ve had too many and lost the ability to read. Customers named Jack Daniel—good luck in Riga—receive free whiskey. The music is loud enough it’s difficult to talk, but perfect for that date with whom communication is a problem. 

Light: (C-4) Dzirnavu 84 (in Berga bazârs), tel. 728-1420. Open: 08-01. An international restaurant by day, on Friday and Saturday nights it turns into the hottest disco in town. As the young and anorexic jive on the dance floor and down the tasty cocktails, the place gets so packed that dozens of revelers spill out into the adjacent courtyard. A good, friendly and fun atmosphere.

Martini's: Zemzaru 1, tel. 777-2779. Open:10-24; Sat., Sun. 12-24. During the day, the ground floor is a car-repair garage; at night the bar upstairs rocks with trendy Latvians. Despite natural doubts, it all works somehow. Noted for its innovative interior, Martini’s has been featured in many design magazines. Good atmosphere, great cocktails.

Melnais Kakis: (I-2) Meistaru 10/12, tel. 751-1021. Open:09-07. Also a new, larger version on Raina blvd. 15 (C-4), tel. 781-4190. Food, drinks, and lots of games: slot machines, pin-ball machines, pool tables, dartboards, even a cash machine that takes ATM cards from North America. Seems to be very popular and bustling--an awful lot of fun, by most accounts. The management aims to be on the cutting edge of game technology, and always on the lookout for the latest gadgets.

Neo: (D-4) Stacijas laukums 2, 8th tel. 707-3073. Open:10-02. A trendy coctail bar in three upper floors of the central train station’s clock tower. The best reason to come here: The breath-taking views of central Riga. Neon lights and ’70s atmosphere. 

Paddy Whelan’s: (I-2) Grecinieku 4, tel. 721-0249. Open:15-24; Fri., Sat. 15-02. Once easily the best pub in Riga, it has somewhat lost its status in recent years, given growing competition. It’s not that service is bad, but the staff can seem indifferent to your presence. Still quite a good place for a beer.

Paldies Dievam piektdiena ir klât (Thank God It’s Friday): (H-1) 11. Novembra krastmala 9, tel. 750-3964. Open:12-02; Fri., Sat. 12-04. A very trendy, Caribbean-themed bar that has quickly become a favorite of up and coming young Latvian professionals; said to be the favorite hangout of Latvia’s winner of the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest, Marija Naumova. Colorful, greenish and pink interior, and views overlooking the Daugava River. Includes a bartender doing his Tom Cruise interpretation, shaking, flipping, and sometimes, dropping drinks. A good array of cocktails, from Mississippi Mules to Dictor’s Grogs. Very good food, too: great California ribs and other tasty snacks, Cuban black bean soup, cod rolls in spinach sauce and lemon-mango parfait; all at reasonable prices. 

Pils Bar: (H-1) Pils 12, tel. 704-4000, in the classy Grand Palace hotel. A decidedly upscale, English-style bar, featuring stuffed animal trophies on the walls. This is a very comfortable, stately place, perfect, not for wild nights of debauchery, but for long, thoughtful discussions between business partners or lovers. Excellent service and pleasant background music.

Pulkvedim Neviens Neraksta (Nobody Writes to the Colonel): (J-3) Peldu 26/28, tel. 721-3886. Open:12-03; Fri.-Sat. 12-05. The raw industrial atmosphere at this nightclub/bar is about as good as it gets anywhere. You certainly wouldn’t expect such surroundings to go with fine food, but here, they do. The menu is extensive and imaginative. While patrons of all ages should enjoy the atmosphere and certainly the food, you should note that the crowd gets younger, more raucous and radical as the clock approaches midnight. Older businesspeople might consider going elsewhere when it gets late; the other option is just to rip off the darn tie, throw caution to the wind, and join in the fun. Pulkvedim has a basement with a less industrial and clubby feel. 

Pupu Lounge: (J-3) Marstalu 14, tel. 722-0732. Open:12-02; Fri., Sat. 12-06; Sun. 17-02. Pupu in Latvian means beans-or tits. Take one look at the menu and you know they're referring to the latter. The downstairs is a cafe during the day; at night, it rocks with funky music. upstairs in the back is a chill-out room with large screens. www.pupu.lv 

Put, Vejin!: (I-2) Jauniela 20, tel. 721-2291. Open:12-22. Old city. A German rathskeller feel, only bluesier. Often a roaring fire. 

Rigas Balzams: (H-2) Torna 4, building 1b, in the Jekaba Kazarmas strip of stores; tel. 721-4494. Open:11-24; Fri., Sat. 11-01. A very popular bar named after Latvia’s most famous liqueur, Rigas Melnais Balzams (Black Balsam), a black gooey drink the texture of crude oil. They make things with Black Balsam that will surprise and delight you. Good pub food. They recently opened a new bar Jaunais Rigas Balzams at (H-2) Doma laukums 2, tel. 721-4494. Open:08-03. www.balzambars.lv 

Sarkans (Red): (B-4) Stabu 10, tel. 727-2286. Open:10-04; Sat. 12-04; Sun. 12-24. A popular, trendy bar/restaurant. Disco in the basement. 

Skyline: (C-4) Elizabetes 55, atop the 26th floor of the Reval Hotel Latvija; tel. 777-2222. Open:15-02. Fact: This place has the best views of Riga. Skyline's bird's-eye view of virtually the entire Latvian capital are reason enough to come here; otherwise, just a straightforward bar. Lots of tourists and local Latvians here gawking at the scenes. The whole place feels a little like a luxury ship that's been permanently floated in mid air. At night, candles are placed on the tables and the lights are turned down, so you can behold the city below you sparking like a field of stars.

Spalvas pa Gaisu (Feathers in the Air): (I-3) Grecinieku 8, in the old city; tel. 722-0393. This spacious, sprawling new café/bar is going for the hip look. It has a tasteful interior in warm earthy colors, tall windows with booths lined up against them. Splavas par Gaisu offers good pub food and has a long cocktail list. Good background music, mostly rock. There’s regular live music, and a disco bar in the basement. www.spalvaspagaisu.lv 

Vairak Saules Cocktail Bar: (C-4) Dzirnavu 60, tel. 728-2878. Open:12-02; Fri., Sat. 12-04. This bright orange-and-yellow bar with plastic furniture has a slight ’70s feel to it. There’s a long list of creative cocktails on offer. They play pleasant background music, often R&B. Vairak Saules is popular with locals and tends to get crowded at night. 

Velvets: (I-3) Skarnu 9, tel. 721-5075. Open:11-02; Fri., Sat. 11-04. Great location, almost-French food. At night, a dance floor at the back. Very popular. 

Wine 

There’s the charming Idalgo Spanish Bar, at (I-4) Teatra 12; tel. 722-1829. Open:11-23. Idalgo is in a nice red-bricked cellar with a fireplace. Good wine list, and food. Good prices. Another wine bar is Bar Michel, (I-2) Laipu 3/5. Very average. A wine bar is also Vina Seta at (I-2) Kalku 2, tel. 722-2566. Open;11-23.
Most of Riga’s finer restaurants now have good wine selections.

Cigar Lounges

Churchill Club: (H-2) Aldaru 2/4 tel. 722-1784. Riga’s first genuine cigar lounge is named after the world’s best known cigar smoker. What Churchill would have made of communist revolutionary Che Guevara’s photo hanging prominently on one wall is open to question. The Churchill Club is in the heart of the old city and has a lovely English-den atmosphere, save for the TV on one wall playing Hollywood movies. The cigar selection is not nearly as good as at arguably the best cigar bar in the Baltics, La Casa del Habano in Tallinn, but it’s not awful: they have some Cubans, and also cigars from elsewhere around the Caribbean.

What’s to Drink

Despite the number of imported beers and Irish pubs, local brews are still very much the fashion in Riga. For many, Latvian beer is often synonymous with Aldaris-brand beer, a smooth, clean-tasting beer that stacks up with the best-known beers in the world. You can't go wrong with Aldaris Zelta. Others swear by Cesis beer, as well as Lacplesis. Overall, Latvian beers are very high quality; they've been brewing them for centuries.
      As for spirits, a very good Latvian-produced vodka is Kristaldzidrais; LB is one of the best sellers in the country. There is also an interesting-tasting whiskey called Zvirkavis.
      The Latvian national liqueur is Rigas Melnais Balzams (Riga Black Balsam), which is dark and gooey, roughly the texture of motor oil. While some turn their noses up at it, others love it. It is made from dozens of ingredients, some of which you'd probably rather not know about. Others prefer the caraway-flavor liqueur, Allazu Simelis.
       Foreign wine imports are abundant. But there are also some notable local wines. As in most cold-climate areas, Latvia has good mulled wine, called karstvins, which is served hot. Latvia is also home to some good sparkling wines, including Rigas Sampanietis.
      

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