TALLINN - If you haven't heard about the newly reopened Hell Hunt (Gentle Wolf) by now, you must have been living under a rock. A very large rock. With the official March 13 opening still a ways off, the pub is already packed to the gills every night of the week, with a crowd of happy, beer-loving regulars often keeping it buzzing until four or five in the morning.
Granted, it's been a long time since anything fresh was added to Tallinn's pub and club scene so it's only natural that the pub-crawlers would descend upon any new place like a pack of wild dogs.
But part of Hell Hunt's newfound popularity has to be put down to the special place it occupies in the hearts and minds of locals and long-term expats. It was Tallinn's first real pub when it opened back in 1993, and for the first couple of years the Irish-style establishment was the place to drink and socialize on weekends. Over the decade it was open, however, the old Hell Hunt slowly withered and died, remaining closed until this year when new owners were able to breathe some life back into the relic.
Patrons nostalgic for the 1990's Hell Hunt should be warned though that they won't recognize their old watering hole. For one thing, it's no longer masquerading as an Irish pub. The dark wooden furniture is gone, the hackneyed wall decorations have been banished, and the cramped booths and railings have been replaced by bright, open seating areas. The heavy, stained glass windows that used to block the sunlight are still here, but now they're framed and suspended from the ceiling, next to the barbed-wire lamps.
Barbed-wire lamps? Okay, the new look is definitely artsy and edgy. The pub's larger front room has a touch of weird, blue lighting and lots of exposed ventilation tubes. The more trendy, lounge area out back looks almost like a cafe for intellectual style freaks. But the decor is actually a lot subtler than it sounds, in fact, the only thing you notice really notice here is how open and airy it is, almost like an old-fashioned beer hall.
And serving beer up is clearly the pub's focus, something it does, it has to be said, with a lot more savvy than most places in town.
For one, instead of flogging the same, tired beers one finds everywhere else, Hell Hunt actually has its own brands of light and dark beer on tap. The very drinkable Hell Hunt Hele and Hell Hunt Tume, both specially brewed for the pub by Saaremaa Brewery, sell for an unheard-of 24 kroons (1.50 euros). A Hell Hunt Cider is also available for the same bargain price, and a number of snack-type items are on sale for any patron who may get the munchies.
The real heart and soul of the new Hell Hunt though is its staff, led by the man who fronts the bar, Paul Gunn. A somewhat famous figure among expat pub-goers, the kilt-wearing Glasgow native has been involved in Tallinn's most popular bars and pubs over the years. Aside from keeping the staff on their toes, Gunn gives Hell Hunt a human face, shouting greetings to regulars from behind the bar as he pitches in filling the non-stop orders for another pint.
So far, the rest of the staff seems to be following his lead. They're friendly and actually jump to take your order when you get to the bar.
If Hell Hunt stays popular once its novelty wears off, it'll be because of this kind of service. It's such a refreshing change from the rest of Tallinn's bar staff, who try their best to ignore any pesky customers who have the nerve to actually ask for a drink. Hell Hunt's staff haven't picked up this habit,and let's hope they never do.
39 Pikk, Tallinn
Midday until people