Walking by creepy looking blue lights from a wallpaper shop in the central station area, we are disappointed to see that a tiny shop with an old-school concrete sign is closed. Having spent many years in Kaunas, did I ever go there to buy meat pastries (čeburekai)? Definitely not. But on a tour with a connoisseur guide and a group consisting of friends and people I’ve just met, I am ready to uncover working-class and simply under-appreciated small shops and bars in my native city.
I am a member of LUNI, the Free University network in Lithuania, which consists of several groups of people who exchange knowledge without any fees or personal benefit. The network has nothing to do with the Western European tradition of free universities, and it is not a university. It is an initiative to exchange knowledge in non-systemic settings after education became more expensive in Lithuania. This month the Kaunas branch of LUNI organized a very special event – a bar food and beer tour with poet and restaurant reviewer Marius Plečkaitis (interview with him in Lithuanian). Food and drink tours are among the recent initiatives in Kaunas, where people explore their city and visit unusual spots that they wouldn’t venture into alone.
This is the map of the route, prepared for us by Marius, who calls his selection of bars a series of ‘misunderstandings:
According to him, some of these bars and shops are uncertain of what they want to become. The first of those is Alaus sapnas, which sells a selection of beers from various breweries and could easily be the next trendy place. Yet as it is now, the bar just off the central street in Kaunas is a mix of a sports bar, a metal bar and a beer tasting hub. It didn’t feel like my kind of place, but the bartender seemed kind and cheerful, and with a large group occupying two wooden tables, it felt as cozy as can be.
We continued the tour in a more mainstream Al Diwan, the only Lebanese restaurant in Kaunas, a feast for our vegan comrades in the group. The restaurant, which takes pride in its authentic decorations brought all the way from Lebanon, serves food, shisha, good Turkish coffee, served with rose water, and hosts belly dance nights. I had been there several times before, but because the restaurant is close to the station rather than the city center it is not a typical place to go for my circle of friends.
I left the tour there, but the group continued to Senamiesčio kibininė (Vilniaus str. 74, Old Town), which, according to Marius, does not deserve to be ignored by locals as it is, because it has one of the best quality and price ratios. It serves Karaite ethnic food (kibinai), which is one of the signature dishes in the touristic town of Trakai. This food could definitely become the trendiest fast food in the region, and indeed, it is sometimes served at various concerts and other events. Kaunas, to my best knowledge, did not have a tradition of kibinai shops, and the one in the Old Town is pretty new. I’ll try it some other time.
To end the tour, our guide chose Šernas (at the intersection of Mindaugo ave. and Birštono str.), which is a student place and another spot for me to discover – I was never a student in Kaunas, so I had never heard it before. But I guess if it’s included in the tour, it must be fun.
It is a common problem in every city, I guess, that once you develop a habit of going to some places, you always go there, just because you always go there. There are many bars that I wouldn’t go to just because they seem to be dominated by different subcultures. If these subcultures are macho-ist, I don’t feel like being around them. But in fact these places can be perfectly cozy, and they also show a different perspective of the city. I’ll certainly take my guests to some of them.