Tbilisi, Georgia: No Longer Europe’s Best-Kept-Secret Destination – The Wall Street Journal
21 April, 2017
Tbilisi, Georgia: No Longer Europe’s Best-Kept-Secret Destination – The Wall Street Journal
"Not long ago, few Western travelers ventured to Georgia, a former Soviet republic. Now its newly polished capital city, Tbilisi, is shaping up to be the life the party," The Wall Street Journal reports from Georgia's capital.

BY 10 P.M. at Ezo, a restaurant set in a garden between flaking art nouveau facades, confetti strewed the grass. The wooden tables were soaked with remnants of beer, Turkish coffee and wine. Toddlers dodged table legs, while a teenager with blue hair and multiple piercings kissed another in a leopard-skin coat. In Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, parties like this one—celebrating Ezo’s first anniversary—appear to be a regular occurrence these days. Every member of the city’s urban bohemia seemed in attendance. An Armenian journalist I’d worked with a few years back suggested a drink somewhere quieter; I agreed. The only trick was to figure out which of the places we remembered still existed.

In 2010, when I first moved to Tbilisi, a city of about 1.2 million people, it had few cafes like Ezo. Other than a string of seedy cheap-beer dives frequented by backpackers, the city’s most popular bars were characterized by a slightly dilapidated, Russian-businessman glitz. I rented my two-bedroom apartment, with a terrace and views of the 4th-century Narikala fortress, for $400 a month. To reach the traffic-clogged main square in the Old Town or the main bazaar across the moss-green Mtkvari River, I had to dodge feral cats, turning through alleys thick with sawdust, tripping over loose cobblestones.

I bought my bread—dough thrown against the walls of the stone ovens—from an unmarked bakery underneath the 19th-century brick seminary. I gathered up my pomegranates and figs from the small markets in subterranean underpasses, where fruit-sellers and purveyors of used clothes hawked their wares to the sound of traffic horns overhead. I fell in love with the city’s strangeness, even if I cringed at the chaos. How could one of then-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s skyscraper projects shoot up seemingly overnight, while the renovations on Rustaveli Avenue’s Moorish-style Opera House remained “very nearly completed” for almost half a decade?
After several years away, at graduate school in Oxford, I returned to visit a few months ago to find the Tbilisi I knew a different city. My local teahouse is now a Georgian wine shop, catering to the tour
groups that mill around the rose-perimetered Aliyev Park. The Meidan, the main square—newly paved and painted in pastels—looks, at first glance, implausibly tidy. Today’s Tbilisi appears less raucous, less anarchic than the city I first fell for, but it has a relentless, youthful energy that feels no less thrilling.

The best cafes—like Ezo, like Le Toit, off Kote Abkhazi street—are either unmarked or on the upper floors of art nouveau apartment buildings, filled with Victorian-vintage clutter (scattered gramophones, teapots). These aren’t the gaudy, Plasticine “VIP bars” that lined Chardin Street in 2010, catering to businessmen of dubious provenance. They feel makeshift, just barely cobbled-together—and new. Nightclubs such as Bassiani, in the basement of the Dinamo football stadium offer exhilarating late-night dance spaces in converted swimming pools and repurposed Soviet seafood restaurants. The old amusement park on the hill of the Mtatsminda district now hosts open-air parties.
At Fabrika, a Soviet factory turned hipster hotel-slash-gallery space nestled on a back street, splendidly colorful graffiti lines the walls. Down the road, the new restaurant Barbarestan—fully booked even at four in the afternoon—serves classic Georgian dishes lifted from the recipe-book of 19th-century Duchess Barbare Jorjadze.

Underneath my old apartment’s windows sit 18th-century bathhouses, and beside them, several new restaurants overlook a recently excavated canal. Last year, Khasheria, the latest offering from Tekuna Gachechiladze (one of the country’s best-known chefs) opened up, turning out contemporary, delicately spiced takes on traditional Georgian comfort food. The signature dish: khasha, or beef tripe soup, that Georgians swear by as a hangover remedy (here, it’s served in a piquant broth warmed with a garlic-and-chili ajika sauce). Communal tables line the walls; the décor exudes a minimal post-industrialist-chic, more artful than Soviet.

Still, some quintessentially Georgian eccentricities remain: When I plugged in my laptop at Khasheria, the entire outlet fell out of the wall, revealing a tangle of bare wires. The waiter shrugged, plugged it back in, and shoved the mass of exposed metal back into the wall. It worked.

On my last day in Tbilisi, I walked along the Dry Bridge: the overflowing weekend flea market where the same vendors I recognize from 2010 sell Soviet pins and Russian silver, icons and enamel, daggers and fur hats, and an array of ram horns (hollowed out and used for downing wine in a single gulp). Back then, the flea-market aesthetic was firmly outdated, targeting stray tourists or old women scrambling for deals.
geotv.ge
Dry Bridge flea market. Photo: Robbie Lawrence for The Wall Street Journal

But today, impossibly fashionable Georgians in their 20s—wearing silk capes and ankle boots—were trying on enameled pendants, vying with backpackers for bargains.
I crossed the street to Saarbrucken Square at the eastern terminus of Agmashenebeli Avenue, the main boulevard of the city’s right bank. Last time I was there, the street was a crowded mess of splintered, balconied buildings, honking Ladas and gaudy wedding-dress shops. Now, it’s pedestrianized, and the newly smooth cobblestones were bordered with baskets of yellow flowers and historic photographs, and advertisements for Georgian brandy and wine. Women in traditional dress sold croissants and khachapuri—the ubiquitous Georgian cheese bread—side by side on long tables. The ruins of a church held a photography exhibition. A festival with panduri-strumming musicians was well under way. The gargoyles and the corbeille angels on the art nouveau buildings had been restored: Perfectly chiseled stone reliefs now hung over facades painted cerulean and magenta.

“The party is for the new street,” one of the khachapuri-sellers told me. The renovations on Agmashenebeli had just finished that day. Everybody was celebrating. It looked nothing like the city I knew from seven years ago. I loved it anyway. Jazz music blared in the square, then Edith Piaf; people hummed along. I hummed, too, walking on.

By Tara Isabella Burton
Continue reading the story here


Related Stories:

Tbilisi among 21 European cities you never thought to visit – but definitely should

The Times urges travelers to 'Book a Trip to Tbilisi'


A Toast to Georgian Wine – The Wall Street Journal


Georgia listed among VOGUE's 10 hottest travel destinations of 2017
Print
Other Stories
Explore Borjomi and its nearby landmarks
If you look for a place with beautiful greenery and historic landmarks, then definitely consider visiting Borjomi and its nearby cities.
Georgia’s top 13 resorts for budget travelers
Summer is the most popular season for vacations in Georgia.
Anatori – A tragic story of Khevsureti’s village
As it’s widely known, Khevsureti is one of the most beautiful places in Georgia.
Top 5 wild mountainous resorts of Georgia to visit
It’s not always easy to choose a suitable place for your holidays.
9 amazing must visit waterfalls of Georgia
In hot summer days, everyone seeks a cool and beautiful place to spend holidays or simply to refresh oneself.
The “magical” place in Georgia where the blood formula changes in 21 days
Georgia boasts wide variety of resorts that stand out for their landscape, climate and healing features.
Another Allwine.ge shop opens in Tbilisi
Biblus Gallery shop at Tbilisi’s Chavchavadze avenue became home to another Allwine.ge shop
 Georgia's five resorts of Black Sea coast you have probably never visited before
Almost everyone knows about Georgia’s popular seaside resorts such as Batumi, Kobuleti and Ureki, yet some tourists
"Georgia: A guide to the cradle of wine" – Precious book for wine-lovers released
Vinologue is pleased to announce the release of the newest title in its collection of wine guides: "Georgia: A guide to the cradle of wine".
Top Georgian resorts to visit this summer
Summer has come and many of us are already thinking about where to spend holidays.
 National Geographic on Georgia's mining town
Georgia's Chiatura mining town, also known as a Ghost Town, in country's Imereti region, was featured at National Geographic.
Georgia’s Romeo and Juliet – Romantic tomb found in Mtskheta
Georgian archeologist Keti Digmelashvili has published the photo that shows the remains of two persons discovered in one of the tombs of the historical city of Mtskheta
Georgia's two petrol stations named among World’s Best 10
Gas stations are among the least celebrated works of architecture. However, London-based architecture website DesignCurial
Skip the Alps – Hike Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains instead
Ancient villages, soaring summits, and thousands of miles of wilderness make Georgia a contender for Europe’s most unsung destination, CNTraveler says.
The most interesting facts about Kakhetian wines
Georgian winemaking is unimaginable without its easternmost region of Kakheti.
A legend Georgians tell about wine
Georgia is a country of legends. According to one of the oldest and interesting popular narratives, Georgians associated the making of wine to the Creator.
Unique fish species discovered in the Black Sea
Unique and rare fish species were discovered in the Black Sea, as reported at the ‘Reinforcement of the Black Sea Monitoring’ presentation.
10 Things to do in Tbilisi – The Independent
With direct flights just launched from Gatwick, now's the perfect time to explore the Georgian capital, the Independent says.
VOGUE: A Visit to Batumi—Georgia’s Most Charming Seaside Town
Georgia's beautiful and sunny seaside city of Batumi has been featured on VOGUE.
Wall Street Journal and National Geographic to Make Film about Georgia’s Ushguli
Media outlets, the Wall Street Journal and National Geographic, are to make a short film about Georgia’s mountainous village Ushguli in the Upper Svaneti region.
Why one L.A. wine expert has Georgia on his mind. The country, that is…
"Where wine is concerned, Taylor Parsons is almost never gobsmacked.
Cost of Georgia’s top travel destinations for spring
Spring in Georgia is a beautiful time of the year. Many of us are already wishing they were somewhere, taking a rest from noisy streets.
 VOGUE: 5 Reasons to Explore the Mountains of Georgia
VOGUE reveals 5 reasons why you should explore the mountains of Georgia. Here is what the article says:
Three Georgian monasteries where some of the best wines are made
In Georgia, the tradition of making wines at monasteries dates back to the ancient times
Abkhazia’s mimosa tree among 14 strikingly beautiful trees around the world
Mimosa tree from Georgia’s Abkhazia seaside region has been listed among 14 strikingly beautiful trees around the globe.
GEL Exchange Rate
Convertor
27.07.2017
28.07.2017
USD
1
USD
2.3993
2.4022
EUR
1
EUR
2.7933
2.8125
GBP
1
GBP
3.1323
3.1579
RUB
100
RUB
4.0016
4.0430
750ml
Kvevri
Zangaura  / 2015
19.90
750ml
White Dry
None  / 2016
18.30
750ml
Red Semi-Sweet
Schuchmann Wines  / 2015
23.95
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Other Stories
A new video depicting beauty of Adjara's landscape , its capital Batumi and the natural resources has hit the social media recently.
Winners of PR Lions have been announced at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and Windfor's ad was among the winners for the first time in its history.
French architectural photographer Aurélien Villette has been traveling to different countries for years in order to document how architecture manifests cultural change.
Along with the development of tourism in Georgia, the number of high-class hotels is increasing.
Josko Gravner is an Italian winemaker, who discovered the Georgian traditional technology many years ago and has been using it since then.
A Georgian couple, who travels to the different regions of Georgia, has shared many adventures and interesting stories with us.
An amazing video featuring a lucky tourist given VIP treatment and dinner with the Prime Minister of Georgia went viral on the internet.
Georgia prepared a special surprise to the 6 000 000th tourist who entered the country in 2016.
Dirk Wagener, a German photographer, outdoorer, skier, and a journalist, along with his team of photographers and filmers are always in a search for the best places
Yet another amazing video of snow-covered Georgia’s landscape has emerged on the internet.
GEL Exchange
USD
1
USD
2.3993
EUR
1
EUR
2.7933
GBP
1
GBP
3.1323
RUB
100
RUB
4.0016