One very good reason for returning once more to Riga was the opportunity to visit my favourite cocktail bar at the Hotel Latvia because when it comes to a favourite cocktail bar this is one that stands out above all the rest. Quite literally stands out above all the rest because it is on the twenty-sixth floor (out of a total of twenty-seven) of the hotel, which is the tallest building in Riga.
The Hotel Latvia is a modern high quality tourist hotel but has a sinister and secretive past. It was built by the previous communist regime and was one of the few State approved tourist hotels run by the Russian travel Agency, Intourist.
Intourist was founded in 1929 by the dictator Joseph Stalin and was staffed almost exclusively by the KGB secret police. It was responsible for managing the great majority of travellers access to and travel within the Soviet Union and it grew into one of the largest tourism organisations in the world, with a network embracing banks, hotels, and bureaux de change.
It is said that all of the rooms in the Hotel Latvia were full of surveillance equipment to keep an eye on what guests were up to and in the nearby Latvian Museum of Occupation, which sets out a grim story of twentieth century Latvian occupation and oppression, there is an exhibit of the telephone bugging equipment that was discovered in the building when it was renovated and elevated to four star status in 2001.
On this visit to Riga and the hotel, in addition to enjoying the cocktail bar and based upon a recommendation we decided to eat there as well. The food was excellent and there was a reasonably priced self-service buffet but what was especially good about his meal was that it happened to coincide with ‘International Woman’s Day’ and there were free cocktails for all of us and flowers for the girls.
To be honest I had never heard of International Woman’s day before, it certainly isn’t that big in the United Kingdom, and I have to say that I thought it was a bit odd to have it on a Saturday, which is a day really reserved for sport, but it turns out that this was just an unhappy coincidence because IWD is held every year on March 8th and is a day of day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.
The Skyline Bar is a great place to relax in the early evening after a day sightseeing and a really good spot for watching the sunset. For the in crowd in Riga this is clearly the place to be and to be seen, and the modern, trendy furniture and décor suggests that there’s a level of exclusivity to this place that is in contrast to its total accessibility. It’s easy to just wander in off of the street and take the external panoramic lift to the top of the hotel and enter the best bar in the city.
Getting one of the seats by the windows is absolutely essential but can be difficult when the place is busy and competition is fierce, and you really need to have your wits about you and move in quickly when the chance presents itself to get one that looks to the west to enjoy the stunning view of the City, the river, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral that stands nearby and the Baltic Sea out on the horizon. Sometimes you have to wait and stay alert for window seat opportunities but it is worth the effort, especially if there is a sunset to be seen. There was no sunset on the first day this time but on the second day our patience was rewarded and we were treated to a glorious show as the sun dipped down and bathed the city in a warm orange glow like the dying embers of a very good fire.
The skyline is supposedly designed to resemble a Manhattan bar but as I have never been to New York I am unable to confirm whether it has achieved this objective. The place has a relaxed atmosphere and a friendly ambience and it certainly doesn’t have Manhattan prices with generous cocktails costing on average only about £4.00.