Tbilisi’s cultural revolution

November 3, 2015

The Georgian capital is steeped in tradition but a new generation of artists and entrepreneurs is offering an alternative to the old ways with the opening of stylish restaurants, hotels, bars and galleries

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Few countries embrace their national stereotypes as wholeheartedly as Georgia. Ask the average Georgian about the traditions of this former Soviet nation in the Caucasus and you’ll get a rhapsody about calorific 12-hour supra feasts, wine downed at a gulp from hollowed-out rams’ horns, loquacious toasts to the Virgin Mary and Saint George, and Kalishnikov-toting mountain shepherds who drink moonshine out of hand grenades. Souvenir stands in the capital, Tbilisi, hawk felt hats and daggers, and the city’s restaurant menus are full largely of cheese-drenched khachapuri bread and khinkali dumplings, approximating the rustic mountain style. Until now.

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I’ve lived off and on in Tbilisi for five years now, and I’ve seen its historic heart transform (though prices remain remarkably low – a room in a guesthouse can be as little as £15, the cost of a decent meal in a midrange restaurant half that). Unpaved alleys populated by stray dogs are now pastel boulevards leading to speakeasy-style cafes. Old-guard restaurants with a casino aesthetic are giving way to more eclectic places catering for middle-class Tbiliseli, rather than wealthy foreigners.

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