Aghmashenebeli Avenue. Make three attempts to save this name in your phone, and go there when you visit Tbilisi. This paved street in the new town has loads of alluring outdoor cafes serving Georgian wines and flaky khachapuri — pastry hankies filled with beans, cheese, potato and cheese or a baked egg. (Other foods are available. But you’d be a fool to miss out on the khachapuri). The day was hot so we decided a beer was called for. Beer is not a thing in Georgia– or hasn’t been until now. A craft beer bar has just opened off the Aghmashenebeli main drag. The owner, an Azeri raised in Siberia, urged us into the concrete cool of his matchbox taproom.
The brass beer pulls are all in place but the brewer hasn’t yet been able to order enamel discs to parade before the parched. These beers are so new they don’t yet have names. We ordered an IPA and a Double IPA. Flat, golden, hoppy and cold, they put the fizz back in our physiology. I wish I could direct you to the place– but there’s no name outside the door. — at least not yet. Just look for the chalkboard.
A visit to Fabrika was next on our list–one of those vast,old industrial buildings now reimagined as a hub for artisans and artists. I fear it is referred to as multi-functional space. Cafes line the yard. We sat outside on school furniture and waited for the hip wait staff to, well, wait. Peter stuck with IPA– a small, bottled one this time. I had a lime and mint lemonade. Later we took the industrial elevator to the second floor of the old factory expecting workshops filled with tortured felt, imaginative enamel work, and a hundred uses of unwanted Soviet memorabilia– crafting staples of Tbilisi. In fact, the upstairs at Fabrika is a hostel. Dorm rooms and private bedrooms with refurbished mid century furniture lined each side of a snot-green school corridor spine. I don’t know what they charge, or how rowdy the backpackers are at night, but it looked clean, cool and calm.
The walk from Aghmashenebeli (it gets easier each time you type it) took us past lots of second hand furniture– the kind of chairs I find hard to resist, in colors I love. You may want to travel to Georgia by van so you can bring some back.
By now it was legitimately time for a glass of red. I had Papari Valley. Read the link if you want all the Kekhati, qvevri, Saperavi, microclimate information but trust me when I say that this is a wine for the full-bodied. It is 16.6 % and I loved every jammy mouthful. Expect to have to brush your tongue harshly before you go to bed, and then again the next morning.
Tongues returned to a healthy pink, we met Tamar, our Guide from Culinary Backstreets Tours. The tour is an excellent way to get a sense of the city and learn its history and culture while sampling delicious food. We were joined by an Australian world traveler; an American entymologist and his German wife; Carol from the US Embassy; and an enterprising woman from California going to Kyoto the long way round. For me the fellow travelers were a bonus because, inevitably, some of the stops on the tour were much more familiar to me than to the others. There is a lot of overlap in the Georgian and Armenian ways of life. Seeing the others’ enjoyment greatly added to my own but nonetheless I felt strangely torn in my loyalties. Surely the Tonir is Armenian? Surely Yerevan’s fruit and vegetable market is superior to that of Tbilisi? Don’t get me started on who was the first to make wine… I knew I had really lost my heart to Armenia when we arrived at the Dry Bridge Flea Market. I am highly susceptible to other people’s junk but every time I spotted a must-have item I reminded myself that my money would be best spent supporting the Armenian economy.
I got over this scruple by the time we reached Vino Underground, a wine bar on Galaktioni Street, near Freedom Square. Dark and dangerous steps lead down into a cavern lined with Georgia’s finest wines. Once you’ve made the perilous descent it seems wise to stay all afternoon. Our wines were served by a knowledgeable young woman from Western Massachusetts who came to Georgia four years ago for a short visit. She fell in love with the language, the wine and for all I know a Georgian. She is fluent in Georgian and in the language of wine. We found our own language proficiency increased with lubrication. We were there for hours. We had dinner at Ezo, a family run restaurant but a stagger from the wine bar. I ate beans with thyme, and an aubergine dish. Both delicious. I dipped my Georgian bread in the fabulous walnut sauce that surrounded the chicken. The wine here was red, homemade, and served in large jugs. We had several. Our tour, which was meant to end at 6pm, wrapped up around 10:30pm with an exchange of hugs and social media handles.