Cafes are so much more than just a location to get your caffeine fix. They are meeting places, spaces for creation, containers of human interaction, and platforms for cultural, social and political events. Moreover, they facilitate friendships, dates, inspiration, development of ideas, relaxation and function as a shelter from any weather condition.
Cafe culture has come to be one of the most prominent modern-day standards for measuring urban development, gentrification and hipsterdom. However, coffee houses are nothing recent, and their importance can be found in many cultures, such as French, Italian, Arabic and Ethiopian. Closer to Post Pravda’s spiritual home, cities like Lviv in Ukraine also have an extensive cafe history, where both preservation of tradition and modern development are imperative.
Planning a trip to Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus or Kyrgyzstan? Unfortunately the big coffee chains are unavoidable there as well, but to support the best of local cafe culture, stop by one of these charming places.
Solaris Lab (St Petersburg, Russia)
Russia’s Northern Capital has many atmospheric cafes – the long, dark, harsh winters would be unbearable without them. And even though you will spend a while searching for it, once you succeed, you will agree: Solaris Lab, situated on a rooftop, is unlike the others. St Petersburg is all about the roofs: as there is no highrise in its center, rooftops provide you with magnificent views. Solaris looks like a greenhouse bubble from outer space which accidentally landed on top of a building, and serves soul-warming drinks when you need them most. Even better: they have telescopes so you can check out the stars in the sky… on that rare occasion of a cloudless day.
Qcoffee (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
Bishkek has still to receive the international praise it deserves. While the majority of cities in Central Asia have yet to really cultivate a proper counter culture, Bishkek, with its far more liberal culture, has started to see the creative industry show greater influence over the city. At the heart of this emerging culture is Qcoffee on Logvinenko Street, which is close to the center of Bishkek. In a city where the best hope up until recently was a crappy overpriced Australian cafe, Qcoffee is a breath of fresh air. Smartly designed, it offers none of the post-Soviet kitsch that is regularly found in the majority of cafes in Bishkek.
Come and Stay Cafe (Kyiv, Ukraine)
Sandwiched between Lva Tolstogo and Shota Rustaveli, Come and Stay is located in a small passageway connecting the two streets. In many ways, the cafe embodies many of the themes that describe post-Maidan Kyiv. It lacks any of the pre-Maidan tastes for opulence, favoring a more minimal design that places the emphasis upon the quality of its product. Its clientele is cosmopolitan and part of the post-socialist generation of Kyiv that were at the forefront of the Maidan protests. It is less so Stepan Bandera than it is Nestor Makhno, as exhibited by one barista’s tattoo. Beyond its high quality coffee, this is a cafe that speaks to what is now Kyiv.
Carpe Diem (Tbilisi, Georgia)
It would be a lie somewhat to say Tbilisi’s cafes are the best in the world, but it would be less of a lie to say they are the most charming. For reasons that remain unexplained to us, seemingly the majority of cafes in Tbilisi appear to be designed by some wet dream from the design pages of the New Yorker, with their delicate antique taste. Among the many quality cafes in Tbilisi, Carpe Diem stands out for the quality of its coffee and food as well as its lovely interior design. Located in the otherwise touristy Old Town district, it has all the charm that we love about Tbilisi, with its calming ambience and friendly staff.
Centralny (Minsk, Belarus)
There is an incredible amount of trash written by western writers about Belarus. We have even been guilty of it at times, but beyond all the “Last Dictatorship” headlines is the vibrant and exciting city of Minsk. Throughout the city are numerous cafes that merit our attention, but the cafe in Centralny Food Store has to be the most noteworthy. Although lacking all the refinement of the other cafes in this list, this supermarket cafe attracts a brilliant mix of students, office workers and drunkards. A true reflection of the city, as the entirety of Minsk society can be found here. All the Soviet charm has been left untouched, yet still it doesn’t feel like a cheap tourist stunt. As such, Centralny is just a place where everyone in Minsk can converge for pastries and espressos in the morning, and shots of balsam at night.