Party Port -Drinking and dancing in Klaipeda
Tossed back and forth between rulers and playing host to everyone from Hitler to Soviet defectors, Klaipeda was one of Europe's jumpiest geopolitical yoyos in the 20thcentury. In the 21st, Lithuania's only port is a bustling place with pungent whiffs of sea salt and money in the air.
If you're there for pleasure, the charming Curonian Spit and an improbable dolphin park will keep you busy by day, while at night there are plenty of places to tipple rum with the local sailors and mermaids. Naturally, though, there are plenty of surprises in stall.
We happened to visit on All Souls Day, a major Lithuanian festival. What better place to commune with spirits walking the Earth, we thought, than a bar which according to our guidebook sounded like a nightclub for vampires? So we winged it to Å ikÅ¡nosparnio Lizdasâ€“ the "bats' nest" â€“ in the Old Town. Visually, at least, it had all the spookiness you need for a sleepless night. The dimly lit cellar was populated by sculptures of evil-looking birds, creepy spiders and humanoid figures hanging in chrysalises. But aside from the barmen, these appeared to be the only residents of the place. Had all the regulars been turned into zombies? There was a laid out but un-patronized banquet table â€“ was a witches' coven scheduled for after midnight? Or worse, do young Klaipedans really spend the holidays with their parents or in church?
Thankfully, we found them in agnostic abundance at Memelis, a warehouse full of fun occupying multiple floors of a gigantic brick building on the waterfront. (We initially got it mixed up with a French restaurant in a similarly cavernous space next door, which must turn over tons of escargot.)
Memel is the old German name for Klaipeda, and apart from a few plasma screens for football addicts, the theme here is Retro Fatherland. There are beer barrels, wooden tables, wooden staircases then some more beer barrels linked by the copper pipes to vats in which the house homebrew is concocted. You can sample this divine nectar in glasses holding up to one liter, but for credibility order at least the two liter jug, or even better the four liter "beer pole". This ingenious device saves drinkers from making multiple trips to the bar and wasting alcohol through needless exercise, but for real comfort it should be accompanied by a four liter "urine pole". (Perhaps they have them under the tables â€“ we didn't check). To simplify this vital issue, a bald guy at the table next to us obviously celebrating his birthday plied his guests with vodka shots. There is something touching about a bloke getting roses and kisses from ladies then returning the favor with hard liquor.
The menu is a vast catalogue of slaughtered animals. The Pork tenderloin with bone stuffed with brisket meat and chanterelles sounded like carnivore-porn, but for true bloodlust, slash open the meter-long fried pork sausage, recommended for two or three mouths.
Signs on the stairs leading to the upstairs disco announced a policy of "double face control". This had us perplexed â€“ were only two-faced people admitted? Or Siamese twins? Not wanting to lose face (having just one each), we moved on.
While Memelis glances back at old Europe, the nostalgia is transatlantic at Skandalas, a brassy watering hole/eatery in a posh old neighborhood a bit out of the center. Like a Hard Rock CafÃ© but with its own personality, the interior is a gallery of statues of Red Indians, highway cops and a big Lady Liberty, as well as sundry move posters, Route 66 signs, antique typewriters, suitcases and much more. Chronic ADHD sufferers or those stuck with the date from hell, fear not - there's an endless supply of distractions here.
The Americana extends to a picture of Al Capone on the venue's advertising, but fortunately post-Soviet mobsters haven't made this their home base. Instead, there's a good looking late twenties, early thirties crowd which could make this a great pick up joint if it wasn't for tragic breakdowns of communication. We witnessed a pair of pretty blondes cast glances of unambiguous meaning at a two males in matching striped shirts a few tables away. You would think guys looking like lollipops would be desperate, but after about ten minutes they left without giving the ladies so much as a wink. Lithuania has a seriously un-Catholic fertility rate, the third lowest in the world, and this was clearly a missed opportunity to improve the score.
Maybe the boys went to play with their beer poles. Or perhaps Lithuanians sublimate their reproductive urges into eating. From Roasted bread with cheese, mayonnaise and garlic mix for starters, to Combination beef, pork, chicken and vegetables fried on a lava stone to a Cherry frangipani tart for those still feeling a bit peckish, there's nothing minimalist about the menu at Skandalas.
The music was full on as well. An ensemble of six nerdy blokes and one hot girl belted out rock 'n' roll and swing classics and had the audience stomping and twirling around the dance floor. So at least the crowd does vertically what their nation needs them to do horizontally.
TiltÅ³ 5, tel. 31 34 12.
Open 11:00-24:00, Sun 12:00-24:00
Å½veju 4, Klaipeda. Tel. 40 30 40.
Open 12:00-02:00, Sun-Mon 12:00-24:00, Fri-Sat 12:00-04:00
Kanto 44, Klaipeda. Tel. 41 15 85.
Open 12:00-01:00, Sun 12:00-24:00, Fri-Sat 12:00-02:00