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Sipping coffee in Lviv’s coffeehouses
Natalya Kosmolinska, a habitue of coffeehouses of Lviv and connoisseur of coffee tasting in general, takes readers on a coffeehouse crawl.
A great many Lviv dwellers begin their morning with a cup of coffee, kava in Ukrainian. Coffee-making and drinking is a ritual strictly observed. There is nothing more offensive to Lviv coffee lovers than instant coffee; at home, coffee must be made from roasted and ground coffee beans in a Turkish-style coffee pot (the necessary equipment to prepare Turkish-style coffee includes a narrow-topped small boiling pot called kanaka, cezve, dzezva, xhezve or briki — basically, it is a tiny ewer; the Ukrainian name for it is either dzhezva or turka). But coffee in Lviv is, of course, drunk not only at home (in this respect, Lviv hardly differs from all other towns and villages where people drink coffee) — at work, a coffee break is indeed used for having a coffee; after hours, on the way home, Lviv dwellers stop at innumerable coffeehouses to have coffee. Sipping coffee in a public place adds something to the taste. Having a coffee, Lviv style, is a sort of a western-Ukrainian version of the Oriental tea ceremony — it is the process and the ritual that matter. People of Lviv call the coffeehouse “knaipa” (k is pronounced; the word has been apparently borrowed from German; Kneipe — a public house, tavern) rather than kavyarnya, the word generally used in the rest of Ukraine.
The section of Lviv, known as Stare Misto (Old Town) is the right sort of neighborhood to go to if you want to have good coffee early in the morning, say at 8 o’clock. At Katedralna Ploshcha Square, the Svit kavy (World of Coffee) coffeehouse, for example, offers coffees prepared in all sorts of ways to please many tastes (but there is hardly anything else to go with your coffee). The walls of this coffeehouse are adorned with all kinds of implements for grinding, roasting and making coffee, some of them quite antiquarian. The small Ts.-K. Lokal Restaurant in Valova Street not far from the Bernadine Monastery, also serves coffee starting from eight in the morning, but in addition to coffee, you can have a glass of wine, browse a morning paper while you are having breakfast. The designer Volodymyr Kostyrko, well known in Lviv, who was commissioned to do the interior design for this restaurant, used motifs connected with the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Joseph I. So while you enjoy eating pastry, many sorts of which are the restaurant’s specialties, and which almost literally “melt in your mouth”, you (if you happen to be a royalist and admirer of the times past) can feast your eyes on photos and post-cards which feature the Emperor and his time.
At Ploshcha Rynok Square, right in the center of Stare Misto, there is a coffeehouse, the Kryyivka Cafe at 14 Ploshcha Rynok (Kryyivka means “a hiding place”), that has a somewhat controversial reputation. The cafe is located at the ground floor of a sixteenth-century building but has no sign indicating its location. The cafe and its decor are styled to bring back the memories of the fierce struggle that unfolded in western Ukraine during WWII both against the invading Nazis and the Soviets. Even the menu combines the OUN-UIA* black humor and actual references to the dishes of Halychyna cuisine.
The Kryyivka Cafe is very popular with young people who get kicks out of the military style of this “joint,” and with tourists, particularly from eastern Ukraine and Russia who want to get a bit of a thrill to come face to face with “Bandera bandits” (usual soviet reference to Ukrainian nationalists from western Ukraine). It has been observed that many of those visitors who come to the Kryyivka Cafe harboring negative feelings about “Bandera bandits”, leave with quite a different perception of the Ukrainian fighters who fought for freedom both from the Nazis and the Soviets.
A bit of history
Lviv is proud that it was a one-time dweller of this city, Yury (Jerzy) Kulczycki, who was one of the first in Europe to open a coffeehouse and began treating Europeans to this “aromatic and invigorating drink”. Yury Kulczycki showed himself a hero in 1683 during the siege of Vienna by the Turkish forces, and for his bravery was awarded by the King Jan III Sobieski the right to choose from the captured Turkish trophies anything he liked (a Turkish army laid siege to Vienna in 1683 and the Polish King Jan III Sobieski, 1624–1696, led a force to the city’s rescue, defeating the besiegers at the Battle of the Kahlenberg in September; thus he raised the Turkish siege and during the next few years he participated in the campaigns that drove the Turks from Hungarian and Austrian soil). To a great surprise of the Austrians and Poles and others, Kulczycki chose 500 sacks of coffee grains — nobody knew what these beans were for. But he did know because he had spent some years in Turkish captivity.
With so much coffee to last him quite a long time, Kulczycki opened his first coffeehouse but the breakthrough in achieving success came only when he began to add sugar and milk to the otherwise biter black drink. In Vienna there is still a street which is named after Kulczycki, and the coffee with milk and sugar was often referred to as “coffee, Vienna style.”
No wonder that one of the first coffeehouses in Lviv when it was opened years ago was given the name Kulczycki had given to his coffeehouse in Vienna — Under the Blue Bottle, or Pid synyoyu plyashkoyu in Ukrainian. It still exists (4 Ruska Street). This coffeehouse is situated in a courtyard of ancient houses and to find it one needs a guide (incidentally, in that courtyard you can see the oldest representation of the lion — so popular in Lviv (Lviv can be translated as That of the Lion). The great fire 1527 destroyed most of Lviv and only a few old buildings had survived.
Though the first coffeehouses appeared in the eighteenth century, the Lviv burghers began to appreciate this drink only after it had become a craze in Paris. However, really popular coffee became only in the nineteenth century when coffeehouses turned into public places where intelligentsia and lower classes “hang out.”
With men frequenting coffeehouses, women tended to go to tsukerni — confectionary shops, which offered a wide variety of sweetmeats; tsukerni were less noisy and in addition to coffee served tea. Today, one of the streets of Lviv, Staroyevreyska, is a center of modern-day tsukerni, each specializing in certain kinds of sweet things. It’s a sweet-tooth paradise.
In the same street, even whose name is reminiscent of the time when the neighborhood was populated by Jews, you find a coffeehouse, Pid zolotoyu rozoyu (Under the Golden Rosa — or Rose), which interior and the whole atmosphere is vibrant with Jewish — in a sort of a tongue-in-cheek manner — motifs. There are no menu cards and you are supposed to bargain for the price of the things you order. When asked how much this or that coffee or cake or whatever costs, the waiters will demand an impossibly exorbitant price, which you can bring down very considerably if you have the skills of a tough bargainer. From the terrace you can look at the ruins of the synagogue which had been built in the Renaissance times and destroyed during the Second World War. On Saturdays, the live orchestra plays Jewish music.
There are coffeehouses in Lviv which combine serving coffee with offering sweetmeats. One of such places, Fresky, is situated in Krakivska Street. Its owners are great chocolate enthusiasts and they are determined to bring back “the true taste of chocolate,” free from any preservatives. They also make candies which are exquisite creations both as far as their quality taste and general appearance are concerned.
The visitors to Fresky can’t fail to notice the frescoes — restored originals of the two-hundred-year old frescoes which adorned the walls of the small early nineteenth-century restaurant. The soviets considered the frescoes to be too risque –naked chubby putty and other “indecencies”— and not suitable, in their opinion, for an eatery, and painted them over. After Ukraine’s independence the palace was privatized and the owners did their best to return to it its more or less original appearance.
Not far from Fresky, in Virmenska Street, you can find the Hasova lampa coffeehouse. In front of it stands a monument Jan Zekh and Ihnatsiy Lukashevych, the chemists who had discovered kerosene (has in Ukrainian means kerosene). They were studying the possibility of getting spirit out of natural oil and discovered kerosene instead. It happened in Lviv in 1853 and the owners of the coffeehouse not only decorated the interiors with “kerosene-related motifs” but honored the inventors of the very important product with a monument placed near the entrance (among other very useful applications of kerosene, think of the airplane fuel which is actually kerosene!).
The three-storied coffeehouse is provided with a terrace on the roof where you can see an enlarged replica of a kerosene lamp. Incidentally, the first such lamp — first not only in Lviv but in the whole world — was made in Lviv in the nineteenth century by the versatile craftsman Adam Bratkovsky. Such lamps quickly gained in popularity and before the advent of electricity were the most wide-spread means of providing light at people’s homes at night. The first urgent surgical operation with the kerosene lamps giving enough light to do it, was performed in Lviv too. The original of the very first kerosene lamp is to be seen in the Museum Drugstore in Ploshcha Rynok.
In the same square you can find a coffeehouse which is a sort of an ironic comment on the economic crisis. The coffeehouse is called Antykryzova knaipa — Anti-Crisis Coffeehouse. Crises do happen rather regularly, in individual countries and once in a while affect many countries of the world, and in order not to become too pessimistic and despairing it is worthwhile to treat these crises with humor and irony.
The owners of the coffeehouse pasted old newspapers (the negative emotion), posters, enlarged photos of beautiful landscapes and of beautiful children (positive emotions) on to the walls instead of wallpaper; later large-lettered inscriptions — sort of commentaries on the economic situation — were added: “Being a banker is a temporary occupation”; “Trymay hroshi v bankakh” ( Keep Your Money in Banks — or Jars; play on the words “bank” and “banka” which in Ukrainian means “a jar”), and others of a similar kind.
There is another kneipa in Lviv with a monument standing at the entrance — Mazokh in Serbska Street. It commemorates the writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the term masochism is derived from the name of Sacher-Masoch, 1836–1895, who described instances of masochism in his writings) who lived in Lviv. Many tourists — and locals too, in particular of the female sex — like to have their pictures taken standing near the bronze masochist. The writer himself, though evidently with masochistic traits in his character, both idolized and demonized women.
Kneipy in Lviv are much more than just coffeehouses — they are meeting places of people from various strata of population, “debate clubs” and places to go to if you want to express your opinions publicly, or just listen to others do it — or just to enjoy your coffee.
Photos by Vitaly HRABAR,
Mykhailo MOSKAL, and Illya LEVIN
* OUN — Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists; UIA — Ukrainian Insurgent Army
At the entrance to the Hasova lampa coffeehouse
stands a monument to the inventors of the kerosene
lamp, Jan Zekh and Ihnatsiy Lukashevych.
Kryyivka — one of the most popular coffeehouses
in the center of Lviv; it has gained popularity
thanks to its WWII and nationalist themes.
The citizens of Lviv are proud of their compatriot,
Yury Kulczycki, one of those who were the first
to introduce coffee drinking to Europe; the Under
the Blue Bottle coffeehouse in Ruska Street has
been named in honor of Kulczycki’s coffeehouse
In the Under the Golden Rose coffeehouse,
decorated with Jewish themes, you will not find
menu cards or price lists, and you’ll have to
bargain with the waiters for the best price
of coffee and other things you order.
The monument to the writer Leopold Sacher
von Masoch, whose name has been borrowed
to create the word “masochism,” is a popular
sight at the entrance to the Masoch
coffeehouse, particularly with women.
An old street car houses
the Stare misto coffeehouse.