“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.” And so said Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’.
If the glove fits…..Well, I’ll leave the sex and drink allegations to you to figure out for yourself and, honestly, I don’t need to know how that works out for you here in Baku but it is true, us ‘trailing spouses’ do spend a lot of time talking and hanging around in cafes, those of us who don’t have children to look after more so. And yes, I guess, we do get a little precious about our expectations too.
Still, what’s a girl (or boy) to do with little or no work opportunities and household chores done in a jiffy? We might as well make the most of things, enjoy our environment and socialise. After all, with good friends for a regular chinwag (or call it therapy), we’re going to feel more grounded and at home. So, as your very own self-appointed café tester, I’ve checked out some of my local watering holes to bring you news of where is good to hang around and do all that talking!
Double Coffee Espresso and Capuccino Bar
Qogol Street , officially 81 Nizami Street, Baku Tel: (+994 12) 498 7582
Somewhat brown and drab, though I prefer to think of it as coffee coloured, Double Coffee is often vastly underrated. Sure, it’s not particularly pretty but it’s okay and especially when it’s cool outside, it’s a cosy and warm little hub. On offer are a large variety of salads, wraps, pasta, pizza, grilled beef and stew, prawns on skewers, cakes, crepes and desserts, speciality coffees, hot and cold, various fruit juices and cocktails and even a separate sushi menu. Admittedly, I haven’t tried most of their dishes but what I’ve seen come out of their kitchen looks and smells good, especially the pizza. Double Coffee is almost opposite my apartment, so for me it’s a great venue for a late breakfast. My dish of choice there are the three beermat sized and thick yeast pancakes with caramel sauce. Naughty but very nice! These pancakes also come in a savoury zucchini version with sour cream and another with curd and white cheese. The coffee is good and, what’s more, can also be taken out. Service is helpful and friendly, occasionally a bit slow, but not so that you’d be irritated by it. Better still, here you get a 15% discount if you have a Bakou Francophones membership card, just be aware that this is almost always initially denied but will eventually be granted with a little insistence. I paid AZN 9.50 for a portion of pancakes and two cups of jasmine tea before any discount.
51A Samad Verghun, Baku Tel.: +994 12 498 1397
Nizami Ganjavi (1141 to 1209) was a 12th-century Persian poet, considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature. He was born in Ganja (now present-day Azerbaijan) and is believed to have spent his whole life in the South Caucasus. He is not to be confused with Imadaddin Nasimi, (probably 1369–1417) who was a 14th-century Azerbaijani or Iraqi Turkmen poet. He is considered one of the greatest Turkic mystical poets of the late 14th and early 15th century and one of the most prominent early divan masters in Turkic literary history. Legend has it that, on account of his religious beliefs, he was skinned alive in Aleppo in 1417. (Information courtesy of Wikipedia). Both of these local literary greats each have a statue erected in their honour in Baku, the former is close to the double gates to the Old Town, the latter stands, set back, on Samad Verghun, confusingly, almost opposite the junction with Nizami Street.
Right opposite the Nasimi statue, is the newish Italian Lavazza coffee bar. It is reminiscent of Café Nero in the UK. Strangely, the menu headings are in English but the descriptions are in Azeri and Russian and include steak, pizza, burgers, toasted sandwiches, salads, ice creams, pastries, fresh juices and, of course, a good selection of coffees and teas. A group of Italians were clearly enjoying their fare at the table beside ours, so I imagine that it must be quite authentically Italian. The ambience is typically contemporary coffee bar with a row of small Zebrano effect formica tables and designerish looking, padded chairs downstairs with more of the same on the galleried upper floor. Some food and cakes are displayed in a glass counter and more food options are shown on a TV screen above it. The lower area was quite buzzy when we were there. Coffee,tea and service were good and, although this cafe might not be ideal for a larger group of friends or a proper gossipy hunker down, it’s great if you want to grab a quick Espresso, maybe, and catch up with a friend or two over a snack. It also does take-outs.
Kolorit Café & Dining
83 Nizami Street, Baku Tel.: (+994) 5535 7799
Just around the corner from Samad Verghun, on Nizami Street, is the new Kolorit Café, surrounded by low hedges in planters. Its bright orange awnings cast a summery glow on the citrus coloured chairs and white tables below. There are some seriously comfortable sofa type seats covered in upholstery with Andy Warhol art images and, with club type music in the background, mercifully for once not too loud, it has a young, funky and fresh vibe. There are two flat screen TV screens at either end of the outside area. Inside, upstairs and downstairs, the zesty coloured theme continues. It’s not quite clear whether it’s a café, a cocktail bar or a restaurant. I suspect it is a bit of all three. Certainly, when I walk by in the evenings, it is usually pretty full. The menu lists all the usual things most café restaurants offer here: Pasta, pizza, salads, various snacks as well as juices, cakes, icecream and long lists of coffees and teas. My lemon flavoured green tea for AZN3 came in a cafétiere and was very refreshing. The waiters wear orange polo shirts to match the general colour scheme which, on the back, carry the slogan ‘Not only saturate your stomach but also saturate your soul’. A bit odd, if you ask me, but I know what they mean. Service was good and I actually really enjoyed sitting there, reading my book on the terrace section, but I would have felt greater soul saturation had there been slightly less staring by the waiters. What, they’ve never seen a woman reading a book before? Duh.
Grandezza Coffee Bar
76 Nizami Street, Baku Tel: (+994 12) 498 8811
Grandezza is the chic fashion department store on Nizami Street. On the ground floor, facing the street, is a small coffee bar with white and black tables right beside a wonderfully colourful display of specialist teas and the rather exclusive confisserie department. I’ve never seen anyone in it but unperturbed, I popped in for a single Espresso. It was served up with an individually wrapped little biscuit and a glass of water, two great pluses in my opinion, and cost AZN2. There was a very small display of cakes in a glass cabinet, none of which looked all that alluring, but in any case, this place is probably more of a quick caffeine pit stop for those who are exhausted from shopping, perhaps. Alternatively, it might also serve as a good quiet husband parking opportunity while one is elsewhere in the store, investigating the next purchase. However, be sure to take the credit card with you and leave him with the small change.
The Coffeeshop Company
85c Nizami Street, Baku Tel: (+994 12) 597 9195
The Coffeeshop Company is an Austrian family enterprise founded in 1999. It operates on a franchise basis and has branches in 16 different countries. The Baku outlet is a little scruffy and worn around the edges but it’s in a good position to watch the world go by on Nizami Street, almost opposite the Casual Brasserie and close to the pretty fountain. Inside it is quite unexciting looking but on those days when the big cream coloured canvas sun umbrellas are up, it’s a pleasant place to meet with friends. The Austrian parent company specialises in the production of high quality Espresso from highland Arabica coffee beans, so it’s not surprising that their coffee menu is extensive, both hot and iced. My personal favourite is the Iced White Moccachino (AZN5), in essence a Frappucino, but the hot Caramel Macchiato looks very tempting too. Most of the iced drinks come in three different sizes, small, medium and large, and range from AZN4.50 to AZN6. Tea starts at AZN3.50 and they do do a nice Iced Chai Latte. Alongside, they also offer the usual soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza and pasta and, of course, cakes and icecream. Service varies, some days its super efficient, on others you might have to place your order three times before it is fulfilled, all depending on how busy the café is.
Café Plaza at ISR Plaza
ISR Plaza, 69 Nizami Street, Baku Tel: (+994) 50 335 9111
I always find the ISR Plaza building quite forbidding looking. Once it was a hotel but now it is a business centre, housing many different embassies and offices. Coming from Samad Verghun on Nizami Street, the building is a modern highrise on the right, just beyond the turning towards Fountain Square. Inside, on the ground floor, is a small café restaurant which, in the year I have been in Baku, I have never really taken much notice of. I pass it on the way to my preferred nail salon and then again, on my way out. That’s it. This time, I thought I’d take a closer look and lo and behold, I rather liked what I found! The relatively small inside area looks attractive and comfortable and, once again, is kitted out in the currently in Baku so fashionable citrus colours. By the entrance was a buffet section with a selection of hot and cold food, reasonably okay looking, and available as a ‘Biznis Lanç’ (Business Lunch) at AZN10. However, I decided to sit outside on the decked terrace area where everything is in bright red and royal blue, right down to the fire engine red Vespa, parked there for decoration. The whole area is covered by canvas, so it’s nice and shady and the ceiling fans add a gentle cooling breeze. The club sounds, as so often a bit too loud, give it a cool garden bar feel and indeed, there’s plenty of choice on the cocktail menu. There is also a food menu but as it is entirely in Russian, I couldn’t make out anything other than the little soup, salad and pizza symbols, so it’s much of the same as everywhere else, I imagine. Service seemed fine, though not very smiley but my single Espresso came with a much appreciated little biscuit which I always think is such a thoughtful touch. I enjoyed the ambience there on the terrace and was just thinking what fun it would be to share my ‘new’ find with my girlfriends over a coffee but this was before I was charged AZN4 for my single Espresso. Wowsers, that’s a hefty price for a small coffee, biscuit or no biscuit!