Monday, February 3, 2014

5 places that will keep you warm this February

Brrr! It's been around -20C recently! (That's -4F for you guys in the US... but it doesn't sound quite as cold that way, does it? And not near as chilly as some of those polar vortex temperatures.)

This is definitely stay-home-and-drink-hot-tea weather, the perfect excuse to share some new finds with you.

The Lviv Chocolate Workshop

The Lviv Chocolate Workshop is a relatively new addition to downtown Kharkiv and one of the few places in town where staff will speak to you in Ukrainian no matter what. (I heard they even sent their staff to Lviv to practice their Ukrainian, but can't confirm if this is true or not.)

It's a bit like the Шоколадка café over on Pushkin Street in that you can buy chocolate novelties (spoons, cell phones, paintings, etc) but I suspect the chocolate here to be tastier (the chocolate cat from Шоколадка sadly had far more value as a decoration than a dessert). This workshop of chocolate delights offers not only cute gifts- there's also a buffet that would make even Willy Wonka jealous! And if you're more the DIY type, you can always shell out to take an actual chocolate-making class here.
live music!
This place has all the usual coffee shop drinks (15-30 uah) plus 4 varieties of melted chocolate (23-25 uah) accompanied by a long list of toppings (2 uah each). D went for melted milk chocolate with kiwi. I went for complete chocolate overload: chocolate cake + hot chocolate.

There's one drawback. though; since it's new and cool, competition for seats can be fierce and they don't accept reservations. Show up hopeful anyway and- by hook or by crook- find yourself a seat.

Location: вул. Квітки-Основ'яненка 12 (as well as 5 locations in Lviv and 16 franchise locations spread throughout the country!). Take the metro to Radianska and then walk to the Assumption Cathedral. The café is next door. 

Hours: 9 AM - 10 PM

Гигант (Giant)

Not much to say about this place except that it's my favorite place to go dancing!!

If you like classy night clubs with elegant people, avoid this place.

If you enjoy the company of students (particularly those from African countries or countries that end in -stan), cheap drinks, and don't mind a 5-to-1 male-to-female ratio (aka BYOW [bring your own women]), this is your spot. But most of all, this is the kind of place where people don't care too much or judge you too much (mainly because they're young and drunk).

As an added bonus, the food is good: blinchiki that are out-of-this-world and borsch much better than you'd expect from a student nightclub. There's a massive drinks menu with reasonable prices. If you can focus your eyes long enough, you may even stumble across the Bin Laden cocktail. (No joke!)

Location: Pushkins'ka St, 79/1. Look for an underground entrance just down the street from the Topic Snack stand.

Open late, of course!

Kharkiv Palace's Sky Lounge Bar

And now, for the polar opposite of Гигант, there's the self-described "chic" and "cutting-edge" Sky Lounge Bar. While Гигант is literally a basement bar, the Sky Lounge Bar towers 11 stories above the earth and looks out on Kharkov's Freedom Square.

I've got to admit- this place intimidated me to death. Although some Very Important Expats are always going on about this place, it took me two years to work up the courage to go. I guess I thought they might immediately catch on to my lack of membership in the Very Important Person club and lock the doors ... but it worked this time, at least ; )

Yes, worst picture ever. Sorry!

It was early on a Friday night when we showed up, so the band was still setting up and only a few business-y types were around (and one middle-aged guy sitting with three gorgeous young women!). It's capital F Fancy here and the prices reflect what you'd expect from an establishment where staff wear white gloves. But I've got to say- that was the best 100 uah cocktail I've ever had.

There's rumored to be an afternoon tea service that is worth checking out... That's next on the to-do list : )

Location: Pravdy Ave 2, making a near-perfect triangle with the Derzhprom metro exit and Lenin's statue. You'll walk by another famous landmark on the way out of the metro: the built-in chess tables that are almost always occupied by a tribe of rather serious old men.

Hours: 12 PM to 2 AM

44 Favorite Place

ул. Пушкинская 44, of course :P
After lots and lots of construction (by men wearing flip-flops while using welding guns!), this rather grand-looking restaurant opened at last. Because it's directly in front of the Arkitektora Beketova metro stop, I would pass by the place all the time. It was summertime, diners drank cocktails in the shade of the outdoor booths, hostesses who looked more like pin-up girls loitered near the entrance with menus in hand... but somehow the season passed by and we never had a chance to check this place out. Until now!

44 Favorite Place is owned by a group called The Flavor Syndicate. Let's call these guys the food mafia of Kharkov, for they own several of the city's popular upscale restaurants. All that dining experience has paid off in opening this restaurant: a great atmosphere (best described as they're aiming for cool), a great menu, and fantastic food.

We visited on a Sunday evening at 5 PM. Although there was lots of seating, most of it was vacant. Only a few tables near us were occupied. I'm guessing the families at those tables were rather well-off as they talked about things like 40,000 uah vacations. The waitress came over with placemat-style menus and five separate menus for sushi, hot drinks, cold drinks, specials, and dessert. She then came back almost immediately to drop off a mini touchpad that we used to scroll through pictures of food. First time I've seen anything like that in Kharkov... or anywhere, actually!

All soups = 35 uah each
Although seriously, seriously tempted by the borsch in a breadbowl offering, we went instead for asian soup with salmon meatballs and okroshka, followed by caribbean chicken with teriyaki sauce, potato wedges, and blue cheese dressing (65 uah), rabbit lasagne (59 uah), and grilled veggies (20 uah). The prices for food aren't bad, especially considering the novelty factor of these dishes, but the beer will set you back: 44 uah for .5 liter.
In short, I really liked the variety in this place. It's a nice break from the usual Ukrainian menu. The restaurant boasts 3 chefs: one for American & European cuisine (they have cheeseburgers!!!), a second for Asian & Japanese cuisine, and a third for Uzbekistan & Georgian cuisine. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the waitstaff; I think our waitress was having a bad day, but that's pretty par-for-the-course around these parts.

To see what it's like inside the restaurant, check out this video of the opening party:

Hours: no clue. Can't even find this information on their website. But they're definitely open at 5 PM on Sundays, at the very least ; )

Rivoli Art Café 

Good news: once you've had your fill at 44 Favorite Place, this little coffee shop is only a short walk away.
Opened April 2013
The eye-catching architecture of Darwin street is worth checking out and now there's a cozy place to warm up afterwards.
Tasty hot chocolate for 18 uah
This tiny café is just past the student hospital. While both the menu and actual café are small, the atmosphere is laid-back and there's plenty of art to admire on the walls. In fact, you can not only buy this art but actually make some yourself (if you manage to find a schedule of classes, which I couldn't).

Location: 12 Darwin Street, a 5 minute walk from the Arkitektora Beketova meto stop 
Hours: Mon - Sun: 10:00 am - 10:00 pm

What do you think? Which of these would you like to visit?


  1. Kharkov is a wonderful place! Having been there just once on an impossibly hot weekend, I didn't appreciate it as much as you have. Good to hear you can enjoy yourself still, even though there is a lot of unrest in the country. If you haven't yet visited then I recommend going to Lviv...and don't even THINK about getting into the original chocolate shop without first standing in line for a few hours!

    1. Ой, hours in line? I had no idea!

      Yes, in Kharkov things are quiet at the moment. Extremely, extremely quiet.