Rekindling that Old Town magic

  • 2007-10-31
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

POTENT POTION: A magician reveals the secrets of 18th century balsam-making at Old Town's newest bar, Riga Black Balzams. The mysterious, old-fashioned venue is filled with candlelight, old books, talismans and alchemy equipment.

RIGA - The magician was wearing long dark robes and sporting a white beard that stretched halfway down his chest. He walked slowly and deliberately, carefully placing one foot in front of the other. As he reached for a rope hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the room 's a clever prop in his latest magic trick 's mice sprang to life and scurried around their small cage nearby.
Riga Black Balzams is the newest bar in the city's Old Town, and yet in some ways it is one of the oldest. A far cry from the go-go girls and bad service that can be found most places around town, the bar recreates the atmosphere of a mid-18th century pub.

"We know that not all tourists who come here only want to spend their time getting drunk and seeing naked women. This will be a place for people who want to learn a little bit about history and to have a magical Latvian experience," Ingars Rudzitis, head of the bar's public relations, said.
For those interested in the historical aspect, the bar has more to offer than simply its wide collection of 18th century artifacts. It also has a live demonstration on how balzams was made when it was first produced in 1752.

The new bar provides people with a magical experience through nightly "Riga black magic" shows. The magician performs a variety of crafty illusions and manages to get the audience involved in each of the tricks. While the tricks are little more than clever sleights-of-hand, they are sneaky enough to keep one entertained through the night 's especially after a few glasses of balzams.
Those looking to find true magic in the bar need only to open their eyes to the surroundings. The bar is lined with ancient books and alchemists' equipment, talismans and old bottles of balzams. The basement showroom can only be accessed by walking through a hidden door behind an inconspicuous bookshelf and down a dimly-lit staircase with rope railings. 

The bar pays attention to every last detail in its recreation of an old-time pub 's the decorations and mirrors are faded, the waitresses wear period dress, the basement area is lit by candlelight and the bathroom even seems to have an 18th century automatic hand-dryer. The music consists of ancient flute ballads and draculaesque organ music.
Overall, walking into the bar is like entering an occult scene from The Da Vinci Code or Foucault's Pendulum. A large black cat 's a common symbol of both the occult and Riga itself 's lazily lounges at the bar, cuddling with passers-by.

The bar doesn't serve full meals, instead offering a wide range of balzams cocktails and a number of tasty snacks and cakes 's each of which is made using the pungent drink. At three lats for a glass of balzams, it is not a particularly cheap place to spend the evening, but at the same time it is no more expensive than most bars in Old Town.
Balzams is the national drink of Latvia and one of the most common gifts from those who have visited the country. Made from a variety of herbs and spices, the drink is known for having an acquired taste 's though many people who try it for the first time walk away disappointed. And yet somehow, in this bar, the drink tastes better 's it seems more authentic.

Rigas Black Balzams
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