Club industry parties on amid financial crunch

  • 2009-04-30
  • By Kate McIntosh

TILL YOU DROP: Riga's night life scene is still going strong despite a high turnover rate among bars and clubs.

RIGA - The party's not over for Riga's bar and club industry, despite an increasing amount of Latvians tightening their belts amid gloomy economic forecasts.
Riga's hedonistic nightlife and congestion of raucous bars and clubs has duly earned it a reputation as the Baltic's party capital, but competition within the city remains fierce amid operators.
From intimate bars, striptease shows, mega clubs, underground grunge hangouts and tourist traps, the capital is home to a dizzying collection of nightlife choices.

However, in such a congested marketplace success in the industry is often dependent on developing an established clientele, smart business practice and capturing that elusive "buzz" or "It" factor.
Operators The Baltic Times spoke to had mixed opinions on the overall impact of the country's economic meltdown on their industry.

Faced with changing social habits and dwindling clientele, many bars have been forced to close their doors, while others are experimenting with a range of marketing and cost cutting strategies.
 "Everybody's feeling it. Everyone is figuring out how to survive 's from lowering prices, spending a zillion lats on advertising, firing people and even raising prices," said Liene Alekse, manager of Filings bar and restaurant in Riga's Old Town.
Alekse said the bar-cum-restaurant-cum nightclub, which features live jazz nightly, had struggled through a tough winter.

Management has taken the decision to slash drink prices by 20 percent in a bid to encourage local, repeat business.
She said management had tried to keep the standard of entertainment and service at the same level.
"Every customer is important to us, but basically when the tourists go, of course we want to keep our local business. If locals come in the summer and our prices are high, then they just won't return," she said.

Alekse said the recent warmer weather and the arrival of tourist season had helped give the restaurant a boost, allowing the opening of the 120 seat summer terrace area, which was proving popular with patrons.


Riga has a number of establishments that have become legendary among tourists and locals alike.
But for every success story there are dozens that will open and close their doors without fanfare.
However, operators say conversely the current troubled times meant young professionals are still looking for fun and a good night as an escape from ongoing economic pressures and uncertainty.
"Even with these sorts of economic pressures young people still want to go out and have fun; to dance and forget about it for awhile. That is why they will find the money for this sort of enjoyment," said Valerijs Nikitins, owner of underground venue Art and Music Bakery.

However, there's no denying the troubled economic times have taken their toll.
Bar and restaurant owners have also been slugged with the government's VAT increase on food and alcohol.

La Rocca is among a handful of mega clubs remaining in Riga.
"Quite a few clubs have been affected and many are closing. There used to be more clubs than people in Riga, now there are just four big ones left," said club spokesman Alexey Krumins.
However, Krumeich said the club was  well placed to survive the economic storm as it was not dependent on the seasonal tourist trade and had an established local clientele base.

Arguably the largest club in the Baltics, La Rocca, which has a capacity for 2,500, is part of a 20,000 square meter entertainment complex, which includes a spa and fitness center, poker venue and the Studio 69 nightclub.

A hotel is also expected to open in the  coming months.
La Rocca, which opened nine years ago, was rebuilt after it burnt to the ground last year.
He said management had kept drink prices stable and continued to promote the venue as an exclusive, but friendly venue.

"We are not as affected as the other clubs. Our main strategy is just to try and keep a family atmosphere, like VIP," said Krumins.
"We feel very positive about the future," he said.


Public relations manager of Paddy Whelan's Irish Pub and Sport's Bar Paresh Patel said he held twin concerns over the economic crisis and the dubious practices of some bars and clubs.
Patel said various city establishments, namely strip clubs, had become notorious for ripping off unsuspecting tourists and continued to tarnish Riga's reputation abroad.

On any given weekend night, Patel said he heard up to 50 complaints from tourists, who had been scammed, robbed or duped while on a night out.
He said the dodgy tactics employed by some establishments, coupled with the financial environment, was hurting the city's bar and club industry.

"Of course we're affected by what goes on outside," said Patel.
"It's [dubious practices] making people less likely to come to Riga. They go back home and 99 percent of them will tell their friends and family 's so to a certain point that does affect us, but we just try to look after the customers that come through the door, so that they do enjoy their time here and do want to come back again," he said.

Patel said the most noticeable impact on the expat favorite, which attracts a mainly international crowd of between 250 and 400 through its doors on weekends, had been the downturn in local weekday business during the past six months.
However, he believes the busy tourist trade and its reputation as a safe party venue would help keep the pub afloat and ensure its place in the competitive marketplace.
Other bar and club establishments are also hoping reputation will be enough to sustain them through the harsh economic times.

"Basically we have stayed with the same level of music. We still think if we don't change, then people will come and enjoy our place," said Alekse.