Back in the Pub Habit
We were bored. We wanted to find a way out of the usual Saturday-night cycle of disappointment. My friends and I decided, rather than go to the usual wine-bars and overly-noisy clubs, we would head to the pubs. Specifically, we would go to the popular pubs and drinking houses of the Old Town in Tallinn, where tourists often went, but locals rarely did. Why didn’t we usually go to these places? It’s difficult to say, given that they’re mostly designed with foreigners in Estonia in mind. Maybe it was snobbery. Maybe it was just a lack of imagination. Whatever it was, we felt it was time to get back into the pub habit.
We began, as was once traditional, at Beer House (Dunkri 5, Tallinn Old Town, www.beerhouse.ee), a German-style watering hole on the lip of the hill that eventually leads up to the Danish Garden and Toompea. Beer House does its best with its surroundings, building in several rooms with different themes and atmospheres, although overall the whole building feels a bit too cavernous because of the very high ceilings and the enormous expanse of space the alehouse covers. That said, the beers on offer are spectacularly good, with one of the widest choices of any establishment. Don’t be surprised to find many beers you hadn’t previously known about. In addition, there is a very good menu, featuring wholesome Germanic treats and enough carbohydrates and protein to keep you full for a weekend.
After Beer House, you’ll need to go to somewhere cosier and where you can talk more easily with the people close to you. Clayhills Gastropub (Pikk 13, Tallinn Old Town, www.clayhills.ee) has been on the part of Pikk Street that has a full view out onto Raekoja Plats for as long as most people can remember, and yet if you ask most local people, they’ll say they’ve never been there. To answer why is a conundrum – it’s packed with nooks and crannies in its compact bar area where diners and drinkers can recline in comfortable chairs. There is also regular, and very good, live music there. Perhaps it’s just that Clayhills has too much of a long-standing reputation as a go-to for tourists – however it’s classy, well-mannered place, where the service is practically flawless and even the English fish & chips – so often something that bars struggle with – is battered crisply with real, thick-cut chips that make it feel almost like home. If your home is a sedate, upmarket pub in Cheltenham.
For something a bit more raucous, we went to Hell Hunt (Pikk 39, Tallinn Old Town, www.hellhunt.ee), which doesn’t actually mean what it seems to when an English-speaker scans its name. This is probably the most famous pub in Tallinn among visitors, and it’s certainly the most likely to be full on a weekend night. If you can find a table, you’ll have a great time, the place feels warm and inviting, the beer list, while not as comprehensive as Beer House, has enough variety to keep you interested, and live sports matches are shown on the screen. The service in Hell Hunt can leave a lot to be desired, but people work hard shifts there, so I say live and let live. If you’re lucky, you’ll find brownies made by legendary Korean-American chef Heidi Park, whose kitchen is based a few miles down the road.
To finish, I suggested we head to Texas (Pikk 43, Tallinn Old Town, www.texas.ee). Not the state, but an American-style honky-tonk bar with low lighting, all-wooden interior, and a soundtrack that covers the entire narrow musical spectrum from Johnny Cash to Neil Young and back. If you haven’t already eaten, try the bar’s burritos and tacos – if you have, sit back and enjoy the jolly service and a small but well-picked selection of beers. Texas isn’t necessarily an evening-ender – it’s also perfectly good at the start – but it is a very good place to go with your friends and a good mood; you can guarantee you’ll feel even better when you’ve spent some time in there.
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TEXT STUART GARLICK, PHOTOS ANDREI CHERTKOV
Stuart Garlick is a journalist and English language teacher based in Tallinn. Since 2012, his blog, Charm Offensive, has covered food, music and fashion in Estonia.
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