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Dining, restaurants, bars and cafés in the Soviet Union (1960s)

Source: http://www.ra.ee/fotis/index.php?type=2&id=21715
Restaurant “Gloria” waiter Harald Rass and his protegé R. Aljas. (November 1966)

There were a number of well known restaurants, bars and cafés in the Soviet Union and the ones I am about to discuss pertain to the Estonian SSR simply because I know the most about them due to being Estonian.

Opinions on Soviet era restaurants vary (as they do in everything). Some say that restaurant “culture” and etiquette wasn’t developed enough and restaurants at the time were very expensive. Others say that restaurants were very fancy and exclusive, people couldn’t get in unless they were wearing a suit and dress and that the waiters were true professionals.

Negativity breeds negativity so I am only going to focus on the positive aspects of Soviet era restaurants, I hope you don’t mind!

The following excerpts are copied and translated from an Estonian online newsportal that asked people to comment and recollect their memories about Soviet era restaurants.

Estonia was filled with great restaurants in the Soviet era. Orchestras played, the service was great (when you tipped, of course!). People fondly remember restaurants such as Kännu Kukk (rough translation: Rooster on a treestump), Szolnok, Gloria, Moskva, Vana Toomas (Old Thomas), Tuljak, Pirita, Viru, Olümpia, Tallinn etc. Every hamlet had its own restaurant and what’s most important – anyone, including university students, could afford going to a restaurant at least once a week. You don’t get that nowadays!

Things were a lot more clearer back then – you would have restaurants, cafés and cafeterias. Now they’re all basically the same and they’re hard to tell apart.

There were five awesome restaurants in Tallinn – you’d go to two of them for the great food and you’d go to the other three to have fun. The great foods were at Kaukaasia (the memories from that restaurant’s shaslik still makes my mouth water…) and Europe (fish restaurant, fantastic). You’d go to have fun at Kungla, Vana Toomas (Old Thomas) and Kännu Kukk. We’d go to Variet as well but didn’t like it that much, too many foreigners. There was a great place outside of Tallinn, Merepiiga (Sea Maiden).

During the Soviet era you’d have a white tablecloth on every table in the restaurant, every proper restaurant had an orchestra and the kitchen was open until 11pm. The vodka was cheap and the foods delicious.

The level of service was a lot higher than today. The foods were high in quality and delicious. You’d have natural music and the best singers would perform. Noone was shuffling around being drunk and holding beer cans, people knew how to dance. You’d always go to a restaurant in a suit and tie.

The atmosphere in restaurants at the time was always pleasant, not everyone was allowed inside. The tables were properly laid out, the waiters were punctual and professional. The foods were excellent, there was live music and everything was affordable (university students were regular customers). I miss restaurants with live music and dancing. Live music and dancing should start at 8 pm like back then not in the middle of the night like nowadays.

When the orchestra played a specific song, the dance floor was immediately full. There were white tablecloths, great foods and cold vodka, there was a buzzing of voices and cigarette smoke, there were loudmouths and drunks. You’d have to wear proper clothing and wear a tie. Women weren’t allowed inside without stockings, pants for women were allowed. It was impossible to get inside the restaurant if you were wearing jeans or a casual sweater. A restaurant was a cultural staple. Prices were low that even poorer people could sometimes afford eating dinner out. After independence I haven’t gone out at all basically because I don’t have the money to pay the servers and afford to pay VAT to the thieving restauranteurs. Ever since that my restaurant has been at my home! Bon appetit!

Below I have chosen a number of Estonian restaurants from the Soviet times that showcase the era, mentality and the atmosphere very well.
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Restaurant Vana Toomas (Old Thomas) dining hall. Tallinn, 1969.
Restaurant Vana Toomas (Old Thomas) dining hall. Tallinn, 1969.
Restaurant Kaseke dining hall. Tartu, 1967.
Restaurant Kaseke dining hall. Tartu, 1967.
View to the Muuga windmill restaurant (1970).
View to the Muuga windmill restaurant (1970).
Restaurant Gloria head chef N. Vyskevitch. April 18th 1962.
Restaurant Gloria head chef N. Vyskevitch. April 18th 1962.
Restaurant Kevad dining hall. 1961.
Restaurant Kevad dining hall. 1961.

What do you think? Would you eat in these vintage restaurants? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

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