Just like home (from home)

  • 2004-09-22
  • By Alec Charles
KLAIPEDA - Some journalists, they say, have a nose for a good story. They can scent a scandal at 50 feet. Me, I can't. You could have landed me in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, and I'd be reporting on the horticultural splendor of the grassy knoll. But what I do have is a nose for a good pub 's a talent which, as a jounalist, I've always found infinitely more rewarding.

This is precisely the kind of olfactory expertise that an overnight visitor to the Lithuanian seaside town of Klaipeda needs. On arriving in the Old Town's main square, an unwary traveler might well end up in the conservative surroundings of Anikes Kursiai, where the food, drink and service are fine, but the atmosphere's a bit bland. A braver soul might even be seduced by the dubious delights of the Relax Bar, part of the Pramogu Bankas leisure complex, a glitzy discotheque which takes the hip right out of hip-hop, and in which a desperately enthusiastic, microphone-wielding hostess does her ample best to get each client to address the assembled throng. But if you're ever feeling tempted to enter this establishment 's and if you're old enough to remember Frankie Goes to Hollywood 's you'd be wise to heed the advice of that gayties group's most popular song: "Relax 's Don't do it."

Yet take just a few steps away from all this and you'll find yourself somewhere rather more palatable. Located on a small sidestreet just off the square (but conveniently signposted from there), the discerning punter will discover the one true jewel in the otherwise zirconium-studded crown of Klaipeda's entertainment scene. Just follow your nose.

Kurpiai is a jazz bar with added hints of blues and classic rock. The centerpiece of Klaipeda's annual Jazz Festival (which takes place each June), it also offers nightly live music of a surprisingly high quality all year round. The local clientele range in age from students through to pensioners, and they all seem to know how to dance 's I mean, really dance. The place is also popular with foreigners lucky enough to have stumbled upon it. Small, inexpensive, friendly and busy (even on a midweek evening in the fall), its darkwood split-level interior subtly reflects the sea-faring tradition of the region.

Kurpiai opened in 1994, and its manager and regulars have been there ever since. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the bar boasts a reasonable drinks selection and an excellent menu 's local cuisine that reminds us that peasant food can be pleasant food indeed.

So, if, like me, you're an expat who hankers for the flavor of an old-fashioned community pub, then this is the place for you. If, like me, you tend to head for Dickens or Molloy's whenever you're in Riga or Tallinn, or if when you're in Vilnius you secretly want to leave your trendy friends in Kozy and stroll across the street to the University Pub 's then a visit to Kurpiai in Klaipeda will feel like coming home.