Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stargorod and Patrick Irish Pub

Natalie has just returned from a trip to Spain. "It's amazing!" she cries. "Everyone was smiling! I ate paella! There was even..." she pauses here with a tone of awe in her voice, "access for the handicapped in the metro and in the museums."

Natalie wants us to go to Stargorod and keep talking over some food and drink. Stargorod is one of the most popular restaurants here. More than a restaurant really, for it's a brewery as well. It's so popular that tables (which can be reserved online) are booked in advance and when we show up, every table in the massive open room has been reserved. We are led outdoors to the summer patio, which is also overwhelmed with people. In fact, there's a second summer patio slated to open next month.

We didn't get here without some dissent. Mine, mainly. For some reason I've always shied away from coming here. Maybe because it's so focused on beer, maybe because it's a hot spot for other foreigners, maybe because it's not what I pictured when I imagined moving to Ukraine. But tonight, tonight there is no getting out of it. We are going to Stargorod.

Natalie and D have been here before. One night D came home late. "Guess where I was?" he croaked. He sounded like a very old frog. He'd spent that evening with Natalie and Dima in the open room. The noise level was so significant that it must have been an indoor carnival with beer and meat for all.

As we approach, I must admit that the outside does look pretty cool.
We sit outside on a deck against a back wall. Through cracks in the wall I can see a  run-down street and dilapidated buildings. All around us, though, are happy people, lots of beer, baskets of flowers, heavy wooden tables, chairs with iron frames, and waitresses in pigtails and corsets. The drinks don't take long to arrive and with them comes семечки.

Food is ordered. This is a weak point of Stargorod. There aren't many dishes on the menu. It's all basically hunks of meat on a stick, "heavy" food designed to keep pace with the beer. Our choice:
It arrives rare. Quite rare. And while rare beef is one thing, rare chicken is another. Natalie takes charge and sends it back to the kitchen (I wasn't aware that sending something back was even an option in Ukraine!)

All this waiting leaves us with lots of time for catching up. We even move on, discuss getting paid in envelopes of cash, what "frenemy" means, and a Soviet playwright who escaped the USSR with nothing but his poems tightly rolled up in a cigarette pack. Natalie tells more about her trip to Spain, about how she used Couchsurfing to find a place to stay. She impresses us with some phrases she picked up during the trip. We debate whether English is a self-centered language (when talking about yourself the sentence must start with "I", ie I went to Spain, whereas in other languages you don't need the pronoun because the verb can be changed). We make a list of funny Russian letters: ы = the sixty one letter, ю = the ten letter, ж = the butterfly letter.

The final tally? For food and prices, I give Stargorod a thumbs down....even knowing that I'm probably the only person in this city to do so. For that amount of money it just didn't impress me much. It seemed throughly average. Additionally, the noise level inside is deafening. Imagine a medieval cafeteria, lunch tables full of shouting vikings. It's that loud.

That said, there is still a good reason to go here and pay all that money:

The atmosphere.

It's a big party. There's karaoke. There are shows. There are accordion players. There are TV screens that show the live interior of the L'vov restaurant. They say people even dance on the tables by the end of the night. And the beer is excellent. It's sold in the following measurements: student mug (.3 liter), enthusiast mug (.5 liter), and professional mug (1 liter). There are also titles to be earned by drinking certain quantities of beer. For example, you can become an Honorable Member of the Stargorod Mayor's Council once you've completed the simple task of drinking 1,000 liters of beer. Or better put, two thousand of these mugs:
Brewery tours happen Monday thru Friday at 5 PM.
Goodbye, Stargorod. That was probably my first and last visit to you, but don't worry. There are hundreds of other people waiting for an empty table.
After, we roam the streets on an impromptu tour of downtown. Natalie leads us to новая сцена театр, the New Stage Theater, in hopes of getting tickets for one of tomorrow night's shows. No luck. There's only a middle-aged woman manning the coat check and the ticket office is closed. We finally end up at a bar, Patrick Irish Pub, near the Radianska metro station. Their motto is drink*drive*friends. Any guesses on that one?
There's a second Patrick Pub near Freedom Square
I'm a little happier here. The prices are more reasonable, the plate of fried potatoes and mushrooms is tasty, and, of course, another round of vodka helps :p Natalie and D make a bet on the man at the neighboring table: "5 grivna says he's a foreigner!" D shamelessly walks over to ask. I'm mortified. I haven't really met any other foreigners outside of work and I can't believe this is how our first interaction might start... but I guess it has to start somewhere. Anyways, he is. He's from England and sitting with a younger co-worker, also from England. Eventually a slow conversation starts between us. They're here for work and rather so-so about Kharkov. The younger guy says "Talking to you, this is the longest conversation I've had here, aside from the taxi guy talking my ear off. And I didn't understand a word of it." They seemed to think that the real city is downtown, that living a 15-minute taxi ride away from the center is a bit of a bummer. I guess if my company sent me to some random city or country I wouldn't be enthusiastic about it either. And I'd probably seek out some bar like this, some familiar place. The walls at this pub are covered with words like Manchester United and Chelsea and the TV screens show tiny men running after a ball on a carpet of green.

Surprisingly, this dare is re-enacted later but the roles are reversed. A Ukrainian guy hesitantly comes up to us and asks if we're foreigners. He wants to practice his English.

The tally here? Again, nothing too special. This is strange, because if you remember every other local review I've written, they all sing praises to those restaurants. I think I'll give it another shot, though. The food is pretty good and there's a tempting 45 grivna business lunch from 12 PM to 4 PM. If not- well, there's always my old favorite, the stolovaya!


  1. Stargorod sounds like a blast! It's cool that they also have a live view of the L'viv location. It also sounds like the sort of place I'd be dying to get out of after a couple hours (too loud, too many people).

    The observation about Spain being handicap-accesible reminds me of some of my first impressions of Ukraine which struck me as conspicuously different: lots of dogs that weren't on leashes; everyone is white; lack of handicap accessibility.

    I think it must be very hard to be a disabled person in Ukrainian society-public life is not very accessible for someone in a wheelchair, etc.

    Then there's the social stigma. Not to say that it's completely absent in North America, but what stands out to me is what one of my students said to me. She had very slight limp, which I hadn't really thought of as being a big deal. At the end of our last class, she approached me and kind of tearfully thanked me for encouraging her to participate in class. She mentioned how difficult it has been for her to be a person with a disability in "a society that is not accepting of disabled people". That made me rather sad.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Tara. Yesterday I saw someone in a wheelchair for the first time in Ukraine. It was a young woman about my age. But oddly enough, it's really common to see other things, like people missing limbs. One time I saw this unusual guy in the market. Everyone was stomping around with their purchases in hand and all of the sudden I see this guy at ground level, pushing himself along on a board with wheels. He had no limbs, only the stump of one arm, and was somehow navigating through the crowds. It really shocked me, not that he was missing all of his limbs but that he was out there getting around instead of sitting at home. He must have a lot of willpower to not have just given up on life.

      Also, Denis always remarks on the number of people here like your former student. Every day I see a couple people, often young, walking with some kind of limp.

      You might be interested in this article-

      Oh, and I think the EURO 2012 games are supposed to be handicapped-accessible. Not sure how that's going to work out...

  2. The public transportation in Ukraine was not aimed for the accessibility of handicapped people. I believe this is mostly due to USSR-time government program for supplying special cars for such people to move around ('invalidki'). Now in early capitalism I didn't hear that this program is still active, but at least it's declared that there are free social services for disabled people funded by govt.

  3. 'Stargorod' распадлючился :) Means the place become worse in aspect of service than it was before, even a year ago.
    This March some of my non-Kharkov relatives and us were there to enjoy their famous pork knee.
    The pork was delicious as always, but it was served cool and 1 hour after order (not 30' as promised by waiter). Considering we had not that much time to be there, this was disappointing.
    As for pork knee, I find it even tastier than in Wiener Lu:ftburg/Schweizerhouse gasthaus im Praterstern.

    P.S.: The 2nd word in this message is one of very Kharkovian words, though it's somewhat pejorative.