It may be surprising that in the “land that sings” there are very few places where a visitor can actually hear traditional Latvian music unless they attend a particular scheduled concert. However, a young foreign-born Latvian and some enterprising locals recently got together to fill the gap by opening a Latvian folk club in downtown Rīga.
Folkklubs Ala, a spacious cavern-like venue at 11 Audēju iela in Vecrīga, is a joint venture between 22-year-old Australia-born Latvian Krišjānis Putniņš and locals Didzis Felsbergs and Baiba Apine.
Putniņš, who had previously worked in hostel management and in catering, was introduced to Felsbergs, who provided the start-up capital, by a mutual friend. Putniņš had prepared the banquet at the friend’s wedding and the latter was so impressed that, knowing that Felsbergs had the idea for the folk club, recommended Putniņš’ catering skills.
Through advertising on a Latvian social networking site Felsbergs found a number of people interested in working on the concept. After a number of planning meetings, it crystallized into a group of three people with Apine joining them. Apine also brought in her experience in the tourism industry.
All three had a keen interest and contacts in Latvian folklore.
Quality service and low pricing for food and drinks—as well as having live music as often as possible—is their secret to bringing in the patrons when the purse strings are tight. The formula should be attractive not only to locals, but to tourists and foreign-born Latvians as well.
Putniņš, who was born and raised in Adelaide and moved to Latvia 10 months ago, said that a lot has been achieved by word-of-mouth recommendations. The spacious venue, which has a large basement, has been used for parties as well and people are pleasantly surprised that there is no charge for having them there. Catering can also be arranged and a bar service is available.
As well as traditional Latvian music, Latvian dishes using local produce and presented innovatively are on offer and at very reasonable prices (around 1 to 4 lats). The food can be washed down with an assortment of local brews, with Brengulis beer available at 1.20 lats per half litre. Local Latvian wines and teas made from various fruits and berries can also be tried and there is also a range of spirits available.
Traditional Latvian music is played live by local groups on Friday and Saturday nights. Friday is jam session night, when those with musical talent and those who want to try out their hand can join in with the local folk band.
There is also a folk dancing night and an evening for karaoke, with the latter taking place downstairs to spare the sensitive ears of other patrons. Programmes for tourist groups showcasing Latvian culture, music and cuisine are also planned for the future.
Folkklubs Ala is open from 11:30 a.m to 1 a.m. during the week and from 11:30 a.m. till the last patrons call it quits on weekends. The club is planned as a place to drop in during the day, with various board games available for customers.
The club’s Web site is www.folkklubs.lv.
Patrons take to the dance floor in the cavernous Folkklubs Ala. (Photo by Uldis Brūns)
Folkklubs Ala is found at Audēju iela 11 in Rīga’s Old Town district. (Photo by Andris Straumanis)
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