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Building a winter wonderland

  • 2007-12-12
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

DECK THE HALLS: Latvia's most famous restaurant chain, Lido, has decked out its headquarters for the Christmas season with a skating rink and holiday statuettes.

RIGA - Let's face it; winter in Riga can be tremendously depressing. There are only a few hours of daylight and no nearby mountains on which to enjoy a little skiing or snowboarding. To make matters worse, the weather this year has been gray, wet and just cold enough to be uncomfortable 's yet without dropping below zero long enough to have a nice layer of pristine snow.

Nevertheless, Latvians make the most of their winters. Little old ladies bundled up so tightly it is difficult to see their faces stand guard at Christmas market stands while children beg for more cookies. Couples draw long, slow circles around the numerous ice-skating rinks that pop up around the city.
Having heard that there was one particularly popular place to escape cabin fever 's a place advertised as both a restaurant and an entertainment center 's I decided to grab a few friends and get out to the suburbs for a little bit of wintertime cheer.

Lido is by far the most famous restaurant for traditional Latvian cuisine. Its headquarters, as I was soon to find out, offers much more than just food. The recreation center has recently opened up its massive ice-skating rink, one of the biggest in Riga, and has decked out its vast front lawn with wintertime and Christmastime decorations.
Some of the decorations are admittedly a bit confusing. Of course, there is the giant tree and nativity scene (replete with little moving robots), but I also caught sight of a little diorama that looked surprisingly like a pagan nativity. The figures involved seemed to be half Christmas-tree/half people creatures holding candles and chatting with a nearby doe.

My exploration of the scene was interrupted, however, by the intrusion of two profusely drunk Estonians who seemed to want nothing more than to have a glass of vodka with me and make clumsy passes at my friends. It was the first sign I saw that Lido also features a full size bar larger than most of the stand-alone establishments in the Old Town.
As we walked on toward the main building 's without our new Estonian friends 's we noticed that the restaurant also has its own souvenir shop. A huge display featuring a number of polar bears and penguins frolicking happily together in front of a giant transparent clock was set up outside of the building.
The main building itself has three floors. The bottom floor, called the beer cellar, is the bar area. It has a variety of Latvian beers on tap 's including the Lido brand beer, which was surprisingly tasty 's and has live traditional Latvian music most nights. I thought it looked like a fun place to hang out, and the prices were good, but it is a bit too far out of town to be a regular place to spend a Saturday night.

The main floor is the cafeteria area. This has the same sort of set up as in the smaller Lidos scattered throughout the city but on a much larger scale. I strolled around looking at the foodstuffs, and whenever something caught my eye the cooks were quick to scoop a healthy portion onto my plate. At about five lats per meal, the prices weren't great (but not horribly expensive). Unfortunately the food was significantly worse than can be found at any "home kitchen" around Riga for half the price.
Upstairs seemed like another world. Fancy furniture, well dressed waiters and rich customers sat languidly wondering at my confused presence. The group of 60-year-old uncoordinated dancers didn't seem to notice me, however.

Overall, anyone who has not been to the main Lido should go check it out at least once. If nothing else, it is nice to get away from the city center and do a little ice skating.

Lido Restaurant and Entertainment Center
Tram number 7 to "Lido" stop
http://ac.lido.lv