Far from the staggering crowd
The New York Times calls it the Las Vegas of the Baltics. Brazen stag party tour operators brand it as the Wild East. But don’t let that deter you from seeing the real charms of Tallinn.
With its old town snug behind a medieval wall, the courtyards and timbered houses of Tallinn certainly look beautiful in the autumn sunshine. And just about now is the perfect time to go, as the flow of stag and hen parties slows to a trickle and the air has yet to turn chill. In truth, even in October, you still find prenuptial parties of both sexes aboard the only easyJet flight out of Stansted. But the one advantage about the departure time (6.30am) is that even the most intently bacchanalian are quiet and subdued. Once you land, its easy to swerve the most belligerent among them, even in a city as tiny as Tallinn. What gangs of stags remain, at this time of year, loiter around Karja Street and the nearby Irish-themed pubs, strip clubs and casinos.
You don’t have to move very far to escape them, either. If you walk down one street to the west of Karja, you’ll find a concentration of really swish bars. The area around Harju has a trio of fantastic cocktail lounges: the laidback Pegasus; the opulent Café Moskva and the recently opened Stereo, which looks like a futuristic update of the Korona Milk Bar from Stanley Kubrik’s A Clockwork Orange. Over the street, another new addition, Silk, serves sushi and sashimi beneath attractive minamalist design. You can eat your fill and drink from an impressive list of sake for about £16 per head.
The diminutive capital has, moreover, long enjoyed an underground music scene renowned for his eclecticism. DJ Chris Long, who performs as the Rhythm Doctor, has been playing in Tallinn with his local partner Raul Saaremets, for eleven years. Their monthly night, Mutant Disco, held at the artsy Von Krahl Theatre, mixes Salsoul with the Klaxons to a glamorous and bohemian crowd. “Tallinn’s a small city,” explains the Coventry-born DJ, “so the scene is really mixed and people remain open to many different types of music.” It’s a spirit that was fostered, he says, from years behind the iron curtain. A time when the only western radio available was either John Peel on the World Service or Giles Peterson caught on late-night stations broadcasting from across the Gulf of Finland.
The Rhythm Doctor says the city’s best kept secret is Chocolats de Pierre, tucked away in the city’s oldest courtyard. It makes its own chocolates from a secret recipe and stays open until midnight. After that, he recommends the Valli Baar as the archetypal late-night bohemian hangout, all red-faced folk singers in the corner and old men on stools sipping Vodka. The house speciality is called a millimallikas, a fiery shot of tequila, Sambuca and Tabasco. The bar is so loved, that the city’s heritage committee recently issued an order protecting the Valli, the last working-class bar in the old town, from the encroaches of the city’s rapid gentrification.
Despite Tallinn’s new found wealth, accommodation remains varied and reasonably priced. Uniquestay Mihkl is a funky new hotel, a short stroll from the old town that is owned by two British brothers. Its spaciously deluxe doubles, replete with ensuite whirlpool baths, cost just £55pn and all rooms come fitted with a flat-screen computer and free internet access. A double at the most luxurious bed in town, at the handsomely timbered Three Sisters, has an autumn rate of around £150pn (another reason to go now). The hotel is just four years old, but its built out of three merchant houses that have stood here since 1362.
The Three sisters is about as far from the staggering crowds of Karja Street as you can get. Sure enough, the parties of stags and hens were gathering back at the airport by the time I arrived for my flight home. They all seemed happy enough with their lot. And so was I. They hadn’t ruined my weekend. Now they needn’t bother yours.