I am sipping on a frothy cappuccino, sitting on a bold red leather chair on a trendy terrace under a Parisian stripped awning-how divine! A “fashionista” struts by in 6 inch heals on the cobble stone walkway below. Seated next to me is a guy on his iphone. I experience at once a feeling of displacement and elation. Am I in Prague, Vienna or is this possibly Krakow?
I look down the way and memories are quickly returning. Cars are parked on the narrow sidewalk and the stop sign is written in Cyrillic. The dead giveaway is the lady selling dried field flowers and sunflowers just around the corner. Now I know! I am in Lviv-the cultural capital of Eastern Ukraine and the Coffee Mecca of Eastern Europe.
Flash back to the post Soviet Era when vodka at breakfast was more so “de rigueur”. As a North American coffee snob, I would search high and low for my early morning caffeine as the shops then did not open till 11:00 am. At that time, to ask for milk in your coffee was unheard of and even frowned upon.
Fast forward to 2011 and welcome to Lviv’s coffee mania. The city now boasts nearly 700 coffee houses. Cafe terraces litter the urban landscape, through the timeless “brahmas” of the ancient center float the aromas of strong coffee. Every conceivable concoction on the planet is available here now. Turkish coffee brewed three times and over hot sand is more popular here than it is in Istanbul. There are numerous cafes that are open 24-7.
Actually, the cafe is a microcosm of society, has come to epitomize the art of living here. The intellectual and artistic Bohemia meet here to philosophize. Lovers linger, this is the place to see and be seen. Not only is the cafe a refuge it is also a “fashion cult”. Waiters themselves are a vibrant element of the decor. The staff meanders about in the french traditional “rondeau”, a black apron that reaches to the floor and wraps around the waist.
Lviv (often called the Mini Paris of Eastern Europe) is as renowned and infamous for its coffee culture as is Paris. Just as notables like Toulouse Lautrec and Baudelaire have immortalized certain cafes in Paris, Lviv too has had its’ cafe celebrities. Lviv born Leopold Masoch (of masochism fame) comes instantly to mind. Picture him composing his famous “Venus in Furs” during the heyday of the Austria-Hungarian Empire as he drank his daily java.
In this city, coffee traditions are steeped in history. It was actually a local emigrant to Austria (Yuri Kultschyzky) who opened the first coffee house in Vienna. He started up his venture with beans left behind by retrieving Ottoman Turks. He called his cafe-“under the blue bottle”. A cafe by that same name exists in the Market Square. It’s carefully restored 16th century walls are reminiscent of the days of the Empire. Most fascinating is the 1960’s cafe called “with their backs to Soviet Authority” where intellectuals drank coffee with their backs facing city hall, then the seat of the Soviet Imperialists.
Since 2007, Lviv has hosted an annual Coffee Festival which occurs in Late September-the essential antidote to the chills of autumn. At this time, coffee tours set different cafes in competition for the honor of the best brew in town.
Back to my favorite cafe terrace- Dianna’s (by the classic fountain statue of the goddess of the hunt) in the Market Square. I love people watching here and I love the anonymity of this crowded inner city cafe.
Are your taste buds ready for some very fine Java? Are you yearning for posh yet antique cafe ambiance with free wifi, all in an exotic setting? If so, Lviv is the place to be, coffee mania and all.