OLD TOWN IS NOT FOR OLD PEOPLE! The literal fall of the heart of Riga.

When it snows, the Old City gets slippery. There is a big chance that the municipal-scale ignorance of not eliminating ice on streets, icicles above heads, and loose cobbling in Old Riga will make you break a bone, twist an ankle, sprain a shoulder, loose a tooth, kick the bucket. Nothing has changed for years, and if it is, the newly laid pavement is already wobbly, rugged and dangerous.

On the contrary, everything has changed when speaking about venues in Old Town. In December, many realized the heart of Riga has also fallen figuratively. The few last resorts of alternative, peculiar, once locally-beloved venues were closing down, and many finally would admit - this has been the last drop of de-authentification of Old Riga.
capital riga
Talking about Old Town then and now really sounds like a good material for the #10yearschallenge. The wrong, awkward one. A decade ago, many could still call Old Riga the real Downtown. You know, like in that Petula Clark's song, when "The lights are much brighter there / You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares / So go downtown, things'll be great..". 10 years ago, it was still a mixture of everything for every taste. Like no other before that.

It was the mad, sometimes never-closing punky Leningrad, eclectic Mr. Lemon, and Van Halen-like "fan club" Rock & Riga. It was the underground DEPO, drugged and then dismantled Space Garage, karaoke indulgent Justo, teenage angst Kardināls, flamboyant and sticky floors in Space Dog, countryside Kabata and countryside pop oriental Casablanca, industrial-ish Nabaklab as well as a mixture of dirty (read - cheap) dancing in Orange Bar and Radio bar, the only Ibiza-ish night club in Old Town called Nautilus and "My-salsa-salsa-salsa-salsa" club named Cuba. The Old city was the place where locals would mix and mingle with foreigners, everybody was everybody's friend.


But then, eventually, it was "Pulkvedim neviens neraksta", or the Colonel, one of the first big names to open in Old Town in the nineties, that became the first and the loudest to shut down in 2015. In less than a decade vast majority of the previously named and many others slipped out of Old Riga or out of our lives. Not one, or two, or maybe three. Almost all. Dozens or more. Of course, there could be a place for a discussion, whether any of the bars were really as good as their popularity granted, and were they as idiosyncratic and valuable as the legendary Chomsky Bar that though was shut down recently in the Central Riga instead.

One is sure - the fall of Old Town's local night life has taken the very last significant jump recently. Meaning that two of the most new-age-old-school vibrant places with their own specific taste and message, the hipster+indie "I Love You" and the grunge pub Aptieka "The Pharmacy" announcing their closures in one week's period past December.


The beginning of the fall might be related to the global crisis after 2009, when the real estate boom really bombarded the Old City, and the regular customers lost their jobs around that time. Things fell for the first time.

Then, perhaps, places were empty because of locals considering tourists evil and wrong of which they, at some point, were (especially the West-European stag parties pooping up the atmosphere). Or simply maybe because there are a bunch of superb new places manifesting in the centre and suburbs, that are more cozy and closer to work, home and heart.

Finally, some locations, even successful ones, got closed by successful, but dead tired owners. Or sold and then closed by ill-fated purveyors next in line. Being in a catering/party business for a decade or more might be fruitful, but is hard and weary job. Especially if you live in a city with a limited audience group.

Thus, the fall of local and quality night life in Old Town also began when no one was actually living there with few only working on days. Most new, cool, cozy and peculiar venues get open in other neighbourhoods where Rigans, especially young adults hang around. Old Town has officially about 2'000 inhabitants, and it's full with day-workers in municipal and national institutions that leave after 17:00. The rest of the city holds around other 700'000 souls. A stellar difference, isn't it? So why the fudge would I even go to Old City?

That's why the only places alive in Old Riga today are those of tourist or first-years-or-Erasmus-student based attendance. Or because they hold on to some magic, unexplainable spells. Of the former, it's Ala with its country and folky drinking nights that get most recommended in tourism offices as the "most local" place in Riga... It's Radio Bar, and then, please, forget about Radio Bar. It's Omas Briljants with a disbalance of some good DJ's and the rest of cheepo-despopsito. Finally, it's hostel-guest-obsessed pubs and maybe, just maybe, it's one exception with "Pūce Klubs Naktī".

But then there are a couple of the latter ones. For example, Republika as the last resort of Latvian alternative music scene. Then Rokkafejnīca, that couldn't find enough Nickelback fans in the West coast Latvia, so they moved their premises here to larger audiences. Finally, DEPO as one of the only underground alternative music oldtimers still eking out of bare existence. Hell knows how DEPO have managed to be so independent and so Old Town. As for 2020, there was a new promising place called Malduguns that offers their own famous local craft beer, that also was closed recently.

Old Town Riga, kanāls, ziema,

So, when was the last time I went to the geographical heart of Riga for some nightlife? I have no idea. Perhaps it happened 4,5 years ago, when a really good band could've been playing at one of the last standing venues. Most of my Facebook friend pool have the same statement, and most of them are either almost in their 30's until almost out of their 30's. Old people. So for us, to be honest, there is nothing much that could stop the ongoing literal and figurative fall of Old Town. Maybe the coming of spring. At least the streets wouldn't be that slippery.

Mārtiņš Eņģelis