ALL TERRACES ARE NOT EQUAL: Finding the right spot for a beer may take some work.
RIGA - As the weather heats up (cools down, then heats up again), I took myself on a little terrace tour of Riga to find the best spots for summer – when it finally arrives and stays.
First on the agenda was The Flying Frog on the corner of Elizabetes and Antonijas streets, one of the most beautiful areas in Riga - the Art Nouveau district. I met a friend for a late lunch on a rather overcast Saturday afternoon. We sat down and, almost instantly, a smiling waitress handed us a couple of menus. Top marks for attentiveness.
I’ve been to The Flying Frog before, and have never been disappointed by anything – the food, the drinks, or the service. The clientele is usually a mix of foreigners and locals, and it’s relatively inexpensive. I had the “Classic Hamburger” – in my opinion, one of the best burgers in Riga, which cost a little over 8 euros. A pint of Valmiermuiza will set you back around 3 euros.
A little later, when the heavens opened, the terrace heaters were immediately switched on, and I snuggled into the blanket provided. The service - despite the weather and Latvia playing in the Ice Hockey World Championships – remained excellent. A win for Latvia and for The Flying Frog.
With temperatures soaring a few weeks later, I met an American friend at Kalku Varti on Kalku street in the heart of Old Town – prime people-watching territory. We sat in the sunshine - the only people there - and waited. And waited. And waited. After almost 10 minutes, I went into the restaurant to see if I could find anyone working there. A waiter was wandering around the also empty restaurant.
“Is it possible to get table service outside?” I asked. “Of course!” he replied.
Hmm. I sat back down, and after a couple of minutes, a sullen waitress came over and handed us a couple of menus. At 4.40 euros for a pint of Mezpils, it certainly wasn’t cheap, but I suppose we were paying for the “excellent” service. I started to understand why the place was deserted.
After our beers, we walked across the square to the rather cool Rockabilly Bar, which I’d been meaning to go to for ages, partly because they always have live bands playing and I love rockabilly music. There was quite a good crowd there, and more seats in the shade which we took advantage of. A friendly waitress was with us almost immediately and we ordered a couple of Valmiermuizas.
Enjoying the buzz of the place, and the constant coming and going of the bicycle taxi guys, we decided to stay for another. Again, the service was quick and friendly. At this point, my friend had to go to the toilet, so he wandered off in search of it. A minute or so later, he wandered back again, saying that there were no toilets; he had to use the public toilets at the other side of the square. I wished him luck.
While he was gone, the waitress came over and explained that a band was going to be playing shortly and that we’d have to pay 3 euros each if we wanted to stay for the show. I said that we’d probably be leaving after that drink. When my friend came back, he said “why would we pay 3 euros for something that we could sit over there and watch for nothing?” Good point. I also objected to paying to see a “pub band.” If a pub wants to have entertainment, then great. I don’t think patrons should have to pay extra for it, though, especially at around 5 in the afternoon.
When our bill came, it turned out to be 19.20 euros for four beers. I was even happier we hadn’t paid extra to see the band.
Before we called it a day, it was time for me to brave the public toilet. Clambering up the two metal steps – definitely not “short-woman-in-a-summer-dress-friendly” – I opened the door. The first thing that hit me was the smell. Dear god, the smell. (I swear I can still smell it 3 days later.) The second thing was the rather interesting instructions on how to flush the toilet: “Press the button for 3 - 5 seconds.” I’m not sure I lasted that long, but I did my best.
For my final pick, I decided to choose somewhere off the beaten tourist track: Tris Viri Laiva on Avotu street. It’s not the most scenic part of Riga, but if you’re looking for a decent local bar with a surprisingly good selection of beers, I recommend it. At 3.30 euros for a Leffe and 3.60 euros for a Guinness, you really can’t go wrong. The service is efficient, and the locals are more curious than hostile as to what a foreigner is doing wandering around the depths of Avotu.
Overall, my pick would have to be The Flying Frog for friendly service, friendly prices and an extensive menu. The fact that they have their own toilet is just an added bonus.