Šnekutis, Vilnius (Užupis branch)

Polocko g. 7A, Vilnius 01204, Lithuania
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –8/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 10/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 8/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  10/10

At times in a city, pub going can feel a tad sterile and soulless without the company to elevate your surroundings, no more so than when drinking in chain bars who focus on reliability but never excel at anything or give the impression anything interesting will happen in them. They become like waiting rooms, simply painted in a pub style rather than being actual public houses. This is a dangerous template to churn out. Without pub character, what is there inspire loyalty and affection?

In England that question often drives me to explore places that offer something a little different, even if that risks disappointment. As I live in Leeds, this usually means visiting alternative, pricey ‘scene’ bars, as sadly there are only a few pubs left with a genuine DIY feel around the country, let alone in Leeds, I mean the kind of hostelry where you can see food being prepared in a normal homely kitchen out of the corner of your eye, where you can crowd around a real fire, and where the primary purpose is to make you feel as comfortable as your own home, with the cumulative effect that you can’t bottle. The sound of people together having a fucking good time.

Snekutis is Lithuania’s single best answer to the problem of sterile modernity, tracing their nation’s distinctive folk heritage to bring together a pub that truly feels like something far more than a business, with all the folksy quirks, rustic food, enveloping warmth and good cheer that ought to involve. But neither is it a hackneyed, plastic, unimaginative stereotype of such a place – this is a genuinely ramshackle venue out on its own on a quiet street  out of the way lane up hill out of the bohemian quarter of Vilnius, Uzupis. The pub looks like (and in a few ways is) a giant shed, even containing a tree growing out through the roof. Throw in a fish tank by the window, objects collected from the far corners of wherever and everywhere, wooden walls and a roaring hearth and you have quite the quirky little venue.

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The crowd inside depends on luck, as Snekutis started off as an in-the-know independent place then caught on through the arty Uzupis crowd in the late 00’s as craft ale and what may loosely still be termed ‘hipsterism’ started to make an impact. As Lithuania became more of a destination for Westerners in the mid-part of this decade, there are tourists and backpackers too, as quite a few hostels have sprung up in this fashionable neighbourhood. Depending on time of day, year, any % mixture of these people may be in attendance, which in itself adds to the variety of the experience.

I really enjoyed some time among the locals enjoying a rough and ready vegetable stew and a pint (it was minus 10 degrees outside), but the night before I had popped in to find some talkative British lads by the bar who were making a quick stop to down some vodka and move on. The prospect of visiting after reading that may put you off, but I believe that not to be the normal way of things in this bar. As with all good pubs, the atmosphere subtly changes over the course of the day on into the small hours and is stolid enough to absorb such shocks to the system as an impromptu gatecrashing of British tourists.

Service is attentive, English speaking (as with Lithuania in general) and nice enough, certainly patient enough to entertain my questions and have polite conversation which made me feel welcome as a solo traveller.

Lithuania is currently showing off its craft beer scene, particularly ‘farmhouse ale’, and Snekutis blazed such a trail, serving raw unfiltered, or as they call it “live” farmhouse style ale, emerging from a blue barrel they don’t overly advertise (licensing laws are a grey but steadily tightening area on this issue). The beer is cloudy, slightly sweet and very refreshing. Reportedly, Lithuanian yeast cultures are unique, leading to a distinctly different flavour. There are a great range of other Lithuanian beers to sample, including some very reputable dark beers and Baltic porters to enjoy, which won’t clock in at much over 2 euros 50 cents, a typical example of how Lithuania is a great way to explore Swedish/Finnish style surroundings on the cheap, and a fridge full of other options if nothing floats your boat.

Snekutis have other branches around the city, all of which are enjoyable in different, more conventional ways, but none has the truly rustic and corporate-free charm of the Uzupis branch. It’s the kind of place that inspires and fosters loyalty by being brave enough to do something unpretentious yet still different, just as I was saying at the start.

With all these positives in place, and the dark Baltic winter outside, you can see quite easily this all adds up to a pub of genius in the making, not just strikingly different and thoroughly enjoyable but outstanding further than that. It is one of my all time favourite places and among the top ten pubs I would call upon to spend my time in and thoroughly deserves a 10/10 rating. Get to Vilnius too, it’s excellent.

 

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