While Riga’s cultural history made it European Capital of Culture a few years ago, the town is also beloved by travelers for its nightlife. Most bars are in the Old Town but new trendy establishments are now increasingly popping up all over the place, and it can be difficult to choose that perfect spot to meet locals, have a drink, or just enjoy a quiet evening with friends. To simplify matters, here we profile the top 10 bars in Riga.
Despite its name leaving room for awkward accidental declarations of adoration, I Love You is one of Riga’s coolest bars. It still manages to feel cozy thanks to its comfortable plush couches, unassuming exterior and friendly vibe. The music is varied but generally good and it is a popular spot for intimate gigs or the occasional DJ set. In fact, the bar also has a small record label so it’s the perfect setting for musical discoveries.
Chomsky is probably the only bar in the world honoring linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky. It is also as unusual as its name implies: here visitors will find run-down furniture, experimental musicians, noise artists, lectures, and a mixed but generally student-heavy clientele. The setting: a former glass cutting and jewelry workshop a little out of the center, only adds to the atmosphere. The drink selection isn’t extensive but there are a couple of excellent Latvian beers like Bruvera and Medalus on tap.
Spread over three floors, Aussie Backpackers Pub is, as the name indicates, an Australian pub with a down-to-earth, laid-back atmosphere. As it is owned by the nearby Riga Old Town Hostel, it is often full of tourists and expats, and therefore provides a quick remedy to a bout of homesicknesss. The Australian aspect is, not overdone, opting for drinking games and Australian craft brews instead of cheesy stuffed koalas or kangaroos.
Stepping into Café Leningrad is like travelling through time. The interior is the splitting image of a Soviet-era room, complete with vintage furniture, television, photographs, books, busts of Communist figures, and even, oddly enough, skis. But this place is not just about nostalgia, it is actually particularly popular with younger crowds thanks to regular live music, playing anything from punk rock, heavy metal to neofolk. The drinks selection is great; beer lovers will especially appreciate the range of local beers, as well as the many Scottish ales.
For a rustic Latvian experience in the heart of Riga, head to the “folk club” ALA Pagrabs, a surprisingly gigantic bar and restaurant entirely underground (pagrabs means basement). The long wooden table which guests share, Eastern European snacks and dishes, and labyrinthine layout with cozy nooks and crannies call to mind an old-time tavern, something the management is keen to encourage by organizing folk concerts and dances. ALA’s main asset is its selection of 28 beers on tap, the largest in Riga.
Skyline is a cocktail lounge on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu hotel. The view is absolutely incredible, possibly the best in Riga: see the Old Town on one side, and the Art Nouveau district on the other. It’s worth seeing at least once. This unmatched location makes it very busy in the evenings; we recommend going on Mondays or Tuesdays to avoid paying a cover charge. The cocktails are also amazing, if a little pricey by Latvian standards.
Find a Latino atmosphere in Riga at Cuba Café, in the Old Town. This bar-café doesn’t overdo its Cuban theme, striving for authenticity in its atmosphere instead of relying on stereotypical decorations. The interior is very eclectic, featuring a stuffed fox, old lamps, pictures of Fidel Castro, and old-fashioned wallpapers. The overall effect is surprisingly charming. It is the perfect place to have a mojito and to dance salsa. There’s also a terrace in the summer.
Kanepes Kulturas Centrs is not just a bar but also a cultural hub where visitors can chat about “the value of art, whales, or the winding of destiny” over a drink, against the backdrop of a variety of cultural events, from experimental live music to film screenings. The building itself, just a stone’s throw from the Art Nouveau district, symbolizes the place’s bohemian feel: it was built over a hundred years ago for Baltic German and Russian aristocrats and was later occupied by art students and then abandoned before coming to life again.
Omas Briljants mixes a retro interior, think old couches and a ceramic chandelier, with funky vibes and tasty cocktails, alcoholic or not, served in glasses or reasonably-priced jugs. There’s plenty of space for dancing should guests feel so inclined but also more than enough seats and tables, with a second floor and a second bar, if the first one is full. If cocktails aren’t your thing, there’s also a great selection of Latvian and Czech beers.
A legendary bar in the Old Town, Rock Café has it all: a place to sit down for a drink but also a busy dance floors with a variety of music (including live concerts), a pool room, and karaoke, the only problem being choosing a song from the huge list of available titles! It is extremely lively, especially on Saturday nights, but the atmosphere is friendly and it is very easy to start chatting to just about anyone. Its proximity to the center and most of the city’s hostels make it especially convenient.