We hop on the bus at platform 21 and it looks like a gang of 6 leather-clad Kool Kids has already taken our cool guy back seats. They’re laughing and going on, watching videos and playing music super loud. Possibly drinking, definitely obnoxious. I don’t want to be dealing with that for the next 4 hours. Earphones in, Darkside on, bye bye inconsiderate assholes.
The bus stops in Stotis for a 20 minute break and we ruck up to a nearby bakery. Find some kvbyn and waters for the bus ride. The goth girl behind the counter is not too impressed with us speaking only in English, especially when we realize we’re out of local currency and don’t leave a tip either. No change Avril, sorry.
These pastries also looked good but we just have enough for da kvbyns
Eating our kvbyns outside the bus on the sidewalk and MacKay is obliviously getting a laughable amount of crumbs all over himself. “Seriously, man?”, I point it out and he wipes them off, “What the fuck?” A flock of opportunist pigeons are thrilled and swarm over to fight over the blizzard of flaky pastry goodness. “Whoa, what the fucking fuck?!” Now we’re surrounded by pigeons and trying not to step on them as we escape laughing to the bus again.
The Kool Kids on the bus are back at it even rowdier than before. Are these guys on drugs or something? They’re making sure everyone on the bus knows just how cool they are with their cranked up Lithuanian dance tunes. I drown them out again and settle in for the rest of the bus ride. It’s all countryside, farms, and lots of golden woodlands. With little to no fanfare or change in scenery we pass right into Latvia.
The bus pulls into Riga in the low light of early evening revealing an old looking city of colorful wooden and brick buildings, multiple tall church spires, a medieval looking old town section, and an arched bridge over the Daugava River that spills into the Baltic Sea beyond. Heard this was a good place to tear it up, we’ll have to see what Agent Oogie got into last night.
Feels good to get off the bus and start pedaling again. New Country excitement adds some sparks to our strut as we speed towards the Old Town Backpackers where Agent Oogie has acquired a few beds for the night. Round the corner on the cusp of Old Town and there’s already a sassy sizzle in the air. Umbrella strewn patios cascade into the cobblestone streets beside a row of old buildings of every color. Travelers are out drinking already and on passing we notice accents are leaning heavily towards the Aussie side of things. Oh, one of the places is literally called Aussie Bar.
Looks like this Aussie bar may be attached to the hostel we’re booked for. We walk in and there’s an old VW bus re-cast as a bar with a line for drinks already formed. The happy birthday signage indicates the hostel is celebrating an anniversary. Bday balloons with “Life’s Short Party Hard” set the tone. This definitely feels like a place Agent Oogie would gravitate towards. Is this really where we check in? Well we could get a drink first maybe?
We walk up and inquire. The bartender/check-in guy asks for our reservation and we say it’s under our forward operatives name, Eugene. “Nope not seeing it, maybe he’s next door at the Wicked Weasel. I’ll walk you over.” We go back outside and over to the very next door. Checktender opens it and points, “Just up them steps.”
We follow signs for the Wicked Weasel up the stairs and start to hear some voices and laughter. Round the corner into the foyer and it’s a group of three sitting at the Check-in / Bar of the Wicked Weasel chatting to a flamboyant young lad with huge feather earrings and fresh braces on his teeth working hard to fix an adorable front tooth gap.
“Well hello. How are you?”, “Amazing, thanks”, “Amazing. I love it. You are amazing. Do you have a reservation?”, “Yes, it’s under Eugene.” At the name drop, one of the girls at the counter perks up, “Another Eugene, wow”, seems our forward agent has already done some good field work, “No, we’re friends with the first Eugene”, “Oh! You’re the frieeeends! You made it!”, “Yep, made it”, “Where from?”, “Prague originally.” We fill in some travel blanks and the girls say they’re all from Cologne, just here for the weekend and about to go back. “Nice to briefly meet you then, safe travels”, “Thanks! Eugene was real fucked up last night by the way”, “Yes, I can believe that”, “Oh he had a gooooood night”, “Yep believe that too”, “Ohhhh there he is!”
Speak of the devil, the giant scraggle-beard of Agent Oogie comes round the corner and he’s looking bleary eyed, shaggy coiffed and far passed worse for wares. Highfives up and around, “Doctor”, “Doctor”, “You must be James”, “And you must be Eugene”, “Well sir, you look like shit”, “I was having a nap”, “Rough one, eh?”, “Yeah, Riga’s nightlife is crazy. Lost my wallet last night”, MacKay and I shoot some worried eyebrows at each other. “Wow, first night. Impressive. Pick pocketed?”, “Don’t think so. I dunno”, “Holy shit. Well how was the Gun Bar?”, “Didn’t make it. Too wasted”, “Daaaaamn, Riga got the best of you, then”, “No not yet. Not yet it hasn’t.”
Lisping Featherman’s name is Thomas. He chimes in at this point, “Ok gentlemen, here are your keyz, and you get a free beer at check-in”, “Badass!” We take our check-in beers and head out to the patio to get debriefed on Agent Oogie’s mission. On the way we pass another traveler, “Oh hey!” and they shoot the shit for a moment. Looks like Oogie laid some good groundwork last night and met just about everybody.
Here’s a sign for the ‘Gun Bar’ that Agent Oogie failed to investigate today. Apparently 2:45pm was just too early in the day to make it happen.
The Mezpils check-in beer is nice actually. Washes the bad taste of Kool Kid bus air right off.
We catch Oogie up on the trip highlights so far. It starts raining on our umbrella and into the alley between the buildings. Little bit nippy but setting some great atmosphere. This back patio is sweet and the beers are decent so we settle in for a few rounds spitting the breeze and letting McBurger and Oogie get acquainted. Once the hunger pangs set in we go back to the front desk and inquire with Thomas about where to get some good local Latvian grub. He tells us a place called Ala is the jam, this is corroborated by another employee. We’re on the case…
Folk Club Ala
We hit the slippery streets of Old Town Riga and the initial impression is that it’s awesome. Tons of great options for food and drink, the whole area is pedestrian only, and that sassy sizzle in the air is still simmering. A few blocks over we find the place Thomas recommended. Down a narrow wood-lined entry way and the smell of thick stews and grilled meats is tickling our taste buds.
The place is popular. It’s a sprawling interior with multiple bars surrounding large carved wood tables with low-light lanterns. Looks to be massive, overflowing platter style plates, mugs of ale and stacked cocktails. Food certainly appears on point and we’re getting excited about the prospects. A folk band’s instruments are set up and a sign says they come on at 9. Only problem is there are absolutely no seats available.
We split up to investigate. There’s a backroom as well with more more seating and an event space with a long table. Every.Single.Seat.Taken. Check the bar stools. All full. Well fuck. The detectives all meet back up in the middle and it’s the same report. Totally full. Seems Thomas was right about this one, probably should have put some forethought into it and booked a res. I guess it is a Saturday at the best local grill in a full on party town. Unfortunate. We make a few more rounds hoping for scraps but people in here are having way too much fun and taking their time with their delicious looking meals. Fair enough, we out.
Denied from Ala we take our dejected stomachs down the street to scope the options. There’s a ton but we’re not fussy at this point. It’s getting late and we’re at the balancing point of wanting good local Latvian grub but equally hankering to ramp it passed max. We find ourselves in a courtyard of a medieval church named St Peter’s and it feels like as good a place as any to rally. There’s a spot with a patio called Golden Restaurant and we roll over to eye their menu nuggets. Looks narmz, we’re in.
It’s a mid-swanky spot with comfy seating and a nicely lit bar in the back. Plates on the neighboring tables look good and little ads show they’re promoting some liqueurs called Balsam from Riga black. Should do nicely. Plonk down and a knockout half-Asian server drops some menus with a smile. First thing’s first though. Beers and a flight of that black stuff.
Here’s how the five Riga Black Balsam shots break down from right to left:
- Straight Cough Syrup
- Medicine + Jager flavor
- Medicine + Double the Jager flavor
- Double Jager Medicine + Triple Jager flavor + starting to barf in our mouths aftertaste
- Basically Bailey’s
It’s a shake your head back and forth after taking a drink but it doesn’t help the fight kind of flight.
The Latvasian server comes back and we get the nummies in. I Tell Oogie to get the pork knuckle. He’s never had it and it never fails, I expect he’ll be stoked about it. MacKay goes for a local stew dish and I get a mixed Latvian sausage plate.
Similar to the Magnus hotel rooftop where we met that dipshit Arthur, the tunage is more lounge covers of popular music. This time Billie Jean is done by the Martini Lizards
Plates drop and Oogie’s eyes quad-size at the pork knuckles majesty. “The sticky, fatty, gelatin goo on the outside.. so good.. How do they do that?”, “I know. It’s the best.”
All the dishes are great. Sausages and a plum sauce with perfectly seasoned potatoes and squash…
…and this wonderously hearty, melted cheese Latvian stew goop. Almost gets the Riga Black medicine taste off the tongue.
Some advice from the bathroom
Our check-in beers, Balsam shots, and cocktails are starting to inform us that this mid-swanky spot is filled with mid-swanky peeps and our penchant for inappropriaties and vagrant appearance are clicking dominoes towards we don’t belong here. As if we needed more incentive, a cover of a Nickleback song by some band called Jumblekye comes on to drive us over the cliff. “This may be the worst thing I’ve heard in my life”, “Worse than actually listening to the original song?”, “This might be worse, let’s get the fuck out of here”, “Check please!”
We backtrack towards the pub scene and stop at the Aussie Bar to re-up and de-Balsam. “Have we gotten a pic together yet?”, “Nope. Groooup Phoooto!”
Alright not feeling too Latvian at this spot, time to mosey into Old Town prime time and see what’s up. “Where too?”, “Who cares where we go, if they serve drinks it’ll be fun”, “True.” We dip onto a place called Ezitas Migla that fits the bill (they serve drinks) and looks mostly local. Post up and MacKay is jonesin’ for a dark and stormy. No they don’t have that. G&Ts? Yep, three of those.
Good house tunes, chill vibe, decent spot we found here.
Not sure what this mini Canadian flag is doing here but.. respect.
A guy on the left of me comments on my hair and introduces himself as Alex. He’s a Russian dude from Moscow. Firm grip on the introduction and he looks straight in my eyes to gauge my sincerity. Satisfied, he calls the bartender back over and puts in for a round of shots and five beers. “There’s only three of us dude”, “No matter, no matter. It will be done.”
As soon as the drinks hit the table Alex gets a phone call and runs out into the street to take it. He walks right out of view and then right out of our lives forever. “Ok… soooo to Alex?”, “To Alex!” We’ve got some damage to do here. Thanks Alex. The bartender says he left his card. I dunno man, only talked to him for twenty seconds.
We finish the first batch of drinks, shots n beers and take the remaining drinks to the patio out front to re-evaluate our lives. The jimble jambles are creeping in. The rain has stopped and it’s just a bit of chill in the air. Enough to keep it frisky. Suddenly a young blonde Latvian dude comes screaming down the street ahead of his pack and right up to our table. He’s full of vim and bluster, “What are you doooooing here?!”, “Ahhhh… I don’t thi…”, “Let’s PAAAAAARTY!!” Damn. This kid’s going places, a quick glance at the detectives produces a shrug of ‘why the fuck not?’. “Well fuck yeah man! Where too?”
And then things took a turn for the stupid…