Taking advantage of Georiga’s 12-month visa-free travel policy, and it’s relatively ‘warm’ winter, I decided to unpack my backpack and settle in the decaying city of Tbilisi for seven weeks.
Trudging up the cobblestone road to my hostel, I realised almost immediately that this little heard of city was bursting with culture and personality. The narrow streets were lined with ancient trees and small businesses touting fresh fruit, vegetables, and recycled clothes. Off coloured paint was peeling from the terrace buildings propped up by reinforced steel and a desire to preserve the beauty of the old.
The young people, conscious of the impact fashion can have on identity, were dressed in oversized jackets with iron-on patches, baggy jeans and Vans. It was obvious that Tbilisi’s youth had formed a subculture, giving off a cool “I know who I am” hipster attitude, and were influencing how this old city was making itself new.
When my seven weeks in this beautiful city came to an end, I realised that I was kind of a hipster and I was basically in heaven – here are a few reasons why:
1. Small Bars
Atmosphere, personality, cheap booze and good (but not too loud) music makes a small bar great, and the bars in Tbilisi are no exception. On any night of the week, you will be able to find something going on:
House beer: 5 GEL
Midweek you’ll find people propped at the bar watching sport on the TV or sat along the windows having a few pints of craft beer. When the weekend rolls around, a random bell will ring and you’ll have the chance to try your luck at beating the bartender in a dice game for a free shot. Should-be-Olympic foosball players will have their hands glued to the handles on the table, battling each other for the win.
House beer: 3 GEL
Dive is one of my favourite bars in Tbilisi. Despite its name suggesting it’s “disreputable” and “unglamorous”, Dive has gained a positive rep amongst the expat and local community who prefer grunge to glamour. There are two tables in one of the back rooms for beer pong competitions (just in case you were feeling a little homesick). You can buy a jug of beer for 10 GEL to play!
Alibi Room (or Alibi)
House beer: 2 GEL
Alibi, close to Dive, is the kind of place you go when you’ve already had a bit to drink. Chacha, Georiga’s notorious homemade spirit, is a whopping 1 GEL so if you’re keen to have a good night on a small budget, it’s worth stopping by. The only downside is there is only one bathroom – so make sure you’ve gone before you get there 😉
House beer: 2 GEL
Warszawa can be super chill or super lit. It’s a narrow bar that takes advantage of the space outside the front door and the downstairs bunker-like dungeon. Open until around 4 am most nights, drinks are cheap and it generally draws a good crowd who are looking to continue the party once the other small bars have closed.
House beer: 5 GEL
Georgian craft beer: 8 GEL
While on a Friday/Saturday night techno reverberates through the walls, and the main lounge area is packed with people looking for a place to start their night, Art Home Cafe midweek is a super chill place to sit back in comfy lounges, observe the cool decor and artwork, and chat amongst your friends.
2. Second-Hand Shopping
One of the first things that made me fall in love with Tbilisi was seeing the sides of the streets, and small box-like stores, adorned with second-hand clothes. If you’re looking for cheap jackets, jumpers, jeans, or random items that few (if anyone) has, you’ll enjoy a day of skipping a museum to search around the streets for clothes.
While a few places have realised the appeal of second-hand clothes (for example, Day Off Ru-use Store), most places don’t have a website or phone number but will be located in a cluster of other shops or randomly on a street. Half the fun is walking down the narrow streets, admiring the architecture, then seeing a bunch of clothes propped outside wooden doors.
Check out the streets around Rustaveli, Liberty Square, and Marjanishvili metro stations.
3. Sulfur Baths
Public bath: 3 GEL entry, 1 GEL towel hire, 10 GEL massage, 10 GEL exfoliation
Private: depends on the room, anywhere from 30 GEL upwards
It would be amiss to visit Tbilisi and not experience the iconic sulfur baths in Abanotubani. You have two options, public and/or private. I experienced both, and each was memorable for different reasons.
It should be noted, that from my conversations with others the men’s and women’s public baths seem to be different. In the women’s bath, it was very much business only – shaving, scrubbing, a bit of chatting in a medium-sized box with rotten-egg smelling sulfur water spouting from the plastic hoses that lined the room. While there, I got a massage and exfoliation, which was performed on a marble slab in front of everyone else in the bathhouse. I enjoyed the experience, but it takes some self-confidence as you will be standing naked in front of a number of random Georgian women.
I’ve heard the men’s bathhouse can include smoking, beer, saunas, and spas – seems like more of a boys club.
If you have a group of people, the private rooms can be really cool. I went in one with some friends I had made and divided the cost (90 GEL) between the three of us. The room included a nice sized spa, a sauna, and a cold pool. We had beers and chatted for an hour while relaxing in the beautiful mosaic room.
I remember walking into the first nightclub I’d go to in Tbilisi (Khidi) and feeling the vibration of the bass pass deep through my body. The music occupies every corner of the room, and the lights pierce through the darkness in an intoxicating manner. The techno was heavy, and the people were welcoming but serious about their music – e.g. don’t use the light on your phone to take videos/photos, you’ll probably get nicely told off. Often organising guest international DJs, the techno clubs in Tbilisi compete with any other club I’ve experienced elsewhere.
One thing to be conscious of however, is the ‘face control’ policy a lot of the popular clubs enforce. If they don’t like the look of you – whatever that look may be – they won’t let you in. If you only have a short amount of time, I recommend checking these four out – Bassiani, Khidi, Cafe Gallery, and Mtkvarze. Note, you’re more likely to get into Bassiani if they have verified you, and you have bought a ticket, online before you go. You can do this on their website – it can take anywhere from a couple of days to over a week.