Island of bohemia

  • 2001-04-12
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Most tourist guides to Vilnius either forget or refuse to mention this café, yet Kerry Keys, an American poet living in the city, describes late Friday nights at the Trecais Brolis as "the most exotic scene for foreigners the city has to offer".

Robertas Matulionis bought the café two years ago and named it Trecias Brolis (Third Brother) because, in traditional fairy tales, although the third brother is not very clever, lady luck is always on his side.

"My café has a constant clientele," Matulionis says.

Trecias Brolis is situated in the House of the Writers' Union, famous for its baroque-style stairways. Despite its location, Trecias Brolis is not a closed club for writers only. Anyone can turn up, but it's typically novelists, poets, film directors and other artists who dominate.

Cuisine at the Trecias Brolis is nothing special. Famous for its comfortable atmosphere and late Friday dancing, everybody behaves naturally. Nobody will look twice if you mix your beer with vodka.

"There are no whores, drug addicts or skinheads, and the café is safe," says Audrius Baciulis, journalist and spokesman for former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius. He especially praised the chance drunken visitors have to sleep on the café's single sofa.

Matulionis agrees that these are safe surroundings. Only once was he forced to call the police, when a visitor brought out a gas pistol.

The clientele tell many stories about Trecias Brolis. Often, when a regular receives money for a newly published book, he or she will buy beer for everyone in the café.

The chances of finding an old man with a long gray beard, right out of classic literature, standing about meditating after knocking back a bottle of vodka, are not slim.

"Only here can you see how a drunken Juozas Erlickas greets Ricardas Gavelis with unprintably cheerful language," reminisces historian Ovidijus Leveris.

Sometimes Erlickas, Lithuania's most popular writer of black humor-filled short stories, sleeps laying his head on a table covered with empty vodka glasses. Other times he staggers out of the cafe in a tell-tale zigzag. This is his image and he's proud of it.

Gavelis is a novelist and political columnist.

Businessmen are rarer guests at the Trecias Brolis. Even so, the clientele recalls how one of these "new Lithuanians" came in drunk and started to burn $100 bills in the fireplace. A poet took one of the bills from his hands, went outside, changed it into litas and bought beer for all who were present.

Bohemians have a lot of strange habits. Sometimes film director Algis Maceina lies on the café floor and smokes a cigar. A resident poet used to climb on the fireplace and leap off after several shots of vodka.

Late Friday dancing is such a crazy event that a documentary film has been made about it. Sometimes the wild jigs have a happy ending; poet Valdemaras Kukulas met his wife there and she inspired him to stop his heavy drinking.

"Some say Trecias Brolis is a fantastic place, some say it is a place for degraded people. It's a matter of taste," said architect Marija Mikneviciute.

"I like to go there and watch these famous people at play. It's near to where I work, and sometimes I go there at lunch time," said Erika Kuliesiene, an employee at the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Science.