Tallinn, Estonia, has a reputation as one of the favorite spots for Western European drinking parties, which can attract tourists as much as it can deter them. But like any modern city, Tallinn can play to multiple scenes; sure, evenings can be excessive if that’s what you want, but that’s not all Tallinn offers.
With some bars as kitsch as others are elegant. A night in Tallinn can be as predictable or unusual as a traveler desires.
With Tallinn’s Old Town having all the theatrical charm and awkward paving of medieval Europe, it makes sense that a restaurant in the middle of Old Town allows tourists to fully experience a night in the middle ages. The wooden panels and candlelight of Olde Hansa give the bar a misty atmosphere that makes it feel more exciting and less contrived than you may expect.
The bar has the smell of golden honey mead and the house cinnamon beer is unexpectedly and dangerously tasty. It is a tourist trap that draws in visitors by offering an unusual dining experience but it is not somewhere to avoid just on that basis. Old Hansa will steer your night in a unique direction if you choose to embrace it.
When it comes to themed bars, the more specific they are then the more appealing they tend to become as the night gets later. Nowhere more so than DM, a bar near Tallinn’s Town Hall Square which is devoted entirely to electronic music pioneers Depeche Mode. The atmosphere in the dimly lit bar is both as brooding and bizarre as you’d expect, a place where baffled travelers can mix with a wash of Depeche Mode fans, often sporting dark aviator shades and buzzcuts. Of course, the drinks are themed too and it would be rude to be there and not down the occasional cocktail named after Depeche Mode hits. When niche bars are as niche as this, they’re worth taking a risk on.
As a city that reels in backpackers and beer-tourists, it’s only fitting that there’s a bar in the city centre offering a quintessentially Bavarian drinking experience. The Beer House isn’t there to surprise, rather to serve locally-brewed thick amber in tankards as big as your head. The bar itself is large but not daunting, with booths for more intimate evenings and a pleasant atmosphere created by the staff who buzz around keeping everyone well oiled. One trick The Beer House does have is its own ‘great beer rally’, in which teams—and nothing makes a team out of a group of friends like a drinking challenge—pay to sit around their very own pump, drinking as many litres as they can in a set amount of time in order to qualify for a leader board that they’d do well to read by the end of the evening. If anything, this challenge just further proves that the promise of a free t-shirt is a very powerful currency come midnight. If you want to see people in lederhosen, you know where to go.
A traditional Estonian drinking den near the city’s coach station, Valli Villemi is a pub in which to immerse among locals and, depending how brave you’re feeling, take on recommendations as to the strongest and heaviest local beers from regular pub-goers with turnstone waistlines and crimson cheeks that reassure you that they’ve put in adequate research. With its chipped antiques, wooden floors and post-work drinkers, Vana Villemi has that local atmosphere which makes it feel almost like a secret, a view into Tallinn life away from the expatriate drinking circuit. It’s a pub that you can feel at home in—just don’t get too comfortable as there’s far too many other bars to visit.
As Parisien as it gets, Cafe Josephine is a lounge of boutique burgundy furnishing in which to indulge in Estonia’s chocolate scene. It may not be a place to sample forty different types of beer with tipsy Europeans, but Cafe Josephine is just about as elegant as it gets. To hang in the lounge area is like being on the set of a smoky Bond movie, with couples leaning into each other while new acquaintances keep a professional distance and talk at low volume. It’s classy but not intimidating, and worth a visit just to try their pristine chocolate truffles late at night. Don’t be confused—this is not a place of neon cladding and free flowing alcohol, rather a lounge of high indulgence and intrigue, a place to experience the finest desserts on offer in Estonia. Cafe Josephine is a stylish beginning to a quirky evening, before the night gets hazy and the shine wears off your shoes.
Tallinn is one of those places that can send a night in several directions. It’s outwardly exciting—the Old Town is as rich a place for late night excess as it is for quiet observation. It’s a city in which your evening can be as local and off-the-map as you wish, with hedonistic expat bars only a few doors away. It is a very international place to drink in but one that feels entirely manageable. In a city where you can go from medieval pub to Depeche Mode bar, what’s not to love?
Drink prices in Tallinn are in and around the Eurozone average—a large glass in Old Town could cost around $3.50 but you might find some bars to be much cheaper, especially on a weekday or slightly out of the Old Town catchment. The city itself feels safe and exciting to be in; with many bars open throughout the night you could easily leave your room at 10pm and drink until 4am without noticing the time.
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- Fraser Balaam