September 2013. My little brother Antonio, my best college buddy Matt, and myself had managed to survive the insane partying in the cobblestoned streets of Krakow, Poland, the ridiculous hotties and Face Control door policy in Odessa, Ukraine, and a creaky Cold War-era overnight sleeper train filled with drunk Ukrainians from Odessa to L’viv, Ukraine. Although we had to say a sad goodbye to Matt in Odessa and continue along with the rest of our Ukrainian adventure without him, Antonio and myself knew somehow that the best was yet to come. As the two of us stumbled out of the L’viv train station, surrounded by the gloomy pre-dawn fog and creepy Eastern European street lights, we suddenly realized we had absolutely no idea what the hell was in L’viv, Ukraine.
To be fair, we had no idea what the hell was in Odessa when we showed up there, and still managed to have a fun time. The only reason we were IN L’viv was because my Latvian friend, who had studied in the Ukraine, had highly recommended visiting there, and had mentioned it was a much cuter and friendly city than Kiev or some other parts of the Ukraine. Once again, L’viv could either be a model-filled cobblestoned quaint Eastern European city or a dark run-down town with Russian mobsters lurking around every corner with weapons-grade plutonium for sale. It was time for us to find out. Antonio and myself hopped onto a rusty Ukrainian tram, paid the barely-awake driver, made sure to get our tickets validated with the ancient validation stamper (very important to do in ANY Eastern European country, otherwise you run the risk of a major fine/ticket/bribe you will have to pay if you are caught), and slowly rolled down the streets of L’viv towards the Old Town.
As Antonio silently sounded out the street names, using his recently acquired skill of being able to read Russian/the Cyrillic alphabet, I quickly scanned the streets of L’viv, looking for any recognizable landmarks. Which was tough to do, because I’d only ever seen maps of L’viv and not the actual city, but we eventually figured it out. After taking the scenic route to L’viv’s Old Town, we got dropped off by the tram in the completely empty Old Town Square, and suddenly realized two things: 1) L’viv was totally cute, cobblestoned, and looked like a more manageable version of Krakow, Poland, and 2) We were totally fucking starving and needed somewhere to eat ASAP. Since it was only 6:30 am and was going to be a few hours before we could check into our rented AirBnB apartment, we needed to find somewhere to sit and eat for awhile.
I scanned the restaurant listings in my trusty PDF copy of “In Your Pocket: L’viv” (which once again, is the BEST guide-book series for Eastern Europe hands-down…and totally free!) on my iPhone, and found a 24-hour café/restaurant called Kryvjika, just on the main Old Town square. But bizarrely, the guide mentioned that Kryvjika was only accessible to people who knew the password to enter. Antonio and myself laughed tiredly at each other: now even Ukrainian RESTAURANTS had Face Control, or at least Password Control! As we entered the seemingly empty alleyway, knocked on the inconspicuous door of the restaurant, and gave the password to the eyes that peered out of the small peephole (“Heroyam Slovam!”, which was an old Ukrainian resistance fighter slogan meaning “Glory to the heroes!”), the door swung open and we wandered down the narrow stone stairs, supremely curious about what we would find.
The totally cute and quaint stone-lined cellar walls of Kryvjika transported us out of this world. Our waiter ushered us past some bored-looking Ukrainian employees watching football (European football/soccer, not American) on a TV in the corner, through a number of winding nook and cranny filled tunnels, and to our dimly lit table. Antonio and myself sat down, ordered some coffee and classic Ukrainian breakfast meat and veggie crepes, and took in the scene around us. We truly felt like we were eating in some underground resistance fighter compound, with tons of kitschy Cold-War era Ukrainian weapons, relics, banners and even a small replica of a jail cell right next to the bathroom. The candle-lit caverns that lit up the restaurant were equally mysterious and sexy. Kryvjika could double as a cute date place or an awesome place to throw down a few beers with a group of friends, and it was DEFINITELY Ukrainian. I had never been in a café/restaurant quite like that, except for one cute cellar date-type restaurant in Brasov, Romania. Once again, I HIGHLY recommend you check out this café/restaurant…you know, the next time you just happen to be passing through L’viv, Ukraine. ☺
After we finished our early breakfast, checked into our ridiculously quaint AirBnB apartment on the outskirts of Old Town, we barely managed to drop our luggage and take off our backpacks before falling face-first into our beds. We fell into a much-needed deep-sleep/nap, woke up in the early afternoon refreshed, and decided to check out the rest of L’viv. As we walked around the much busier streets of L’viv in the afternoon, Antonio and I realized L’viv was much more like Krakow, Poland and less like Odesssa, Ukraine: it was filled with gorgeous cobblestoned streets and architecture, had an Old Town square, plenty of cute cafes and even cuter restaurants, and was definitely more tourist-friendly. Although it didn’t have the throngs of tour groups, like Prague or Krakow had, or the tons of hot Ukrainian women strolling the streets, like Odessa, Ukraine had, it was easy to see why this was one of the top destinations in Ukraine, and I instantly realized why my Latvian friend had highly recommended L’viv.
There were gorgeous crumbling churches around every corner. Blushing and smiling Ukrainian brides and grooms were out in full force taking wedding photos around the dimly-lit tunnels and streets, and getting married everywhere; it seriously felt like there were hundreds of couples tying the knot all over L’viv during the weekend we were there. Street performers, food stands, and clanging trams weaved their way through the streets all around us. Outside of Prague, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Brasov, and Krakow, I think L’viv has to be one of the cutest Eastern European towns I have ever seen. As Antonio and myself slowly strolled around the streets of L’viv, eating at surprisingly excellent Italian restaurants (Bianca Rosso has some of the greatest pasta I’ve had outside Italy, and Bella Ciao had excellent pizza) and having coffee, we noticed another funny thing: All the cafés in L’viv, not just Kryvjika, seemed to have some bizarre theme. One café was dimly lit with gas lamps everywhere and was named after the Ukrainian inventor of, fittingly, the gas lamp. Our favorite totally insane café was named Masoch Café, named after the Ukrainian man, Masoch, who popularized S&M. Everything from the furry, chained menu to the suggestive drinks with names like Fellatio, Orgasm, and Cunnilingus to the pornographic photos all over the place to the waitresses who, I shit you now, physically WHIPPED AND FLOGGED customers when they asked for it (and sometimes when they didn’t) was so surreal, we barely realized we were there to actually have coffee. No joke, I saw one male employee flog and spank the asses of three female customers HARD as they were leaving out the front door, while they giggled, screamed, and lustily looked back at the guy. You gotta love Eastern Europe, and what “Fifty Shades of Grey” has done all over the world for the acceptance of kinky hard hanky-panky. And apparently it was all invented in the Ukraine! While of course in America we have Starbucks, where the most exciting thing most employees do is spell your name wrong on your disposable cappuccino cup.
But we weren’t just in L’viv to drink coffee in kinky environments and kitschy cafes. Once again, Antonio and I were deeply curious what the nightlife and dancing hotties of L’viv would be like. After yet another pre-dinner nap back at our apartment, we got all dolled-up, spritzed on the Acqua di Gio for the ladies (twice on the wrist and under the chin, once in the crotch), and strolled out ready to take whatever L’viv could dish our way. After paying 50 Hr and warming up with some forgettable food at a total strike-out of a restaurant/lounge called Milk, just outside Old Town, we quickly realized that basically we had picked the wrong place to try to party. Maybe Milk was happening on other days, since we saw videos on their wall of their hottie-filled club with an even hotter totally topless female DJ spinning tunes, but it wasn’t going off on that Thursday night. Luckily, just down the block there was another cool club called Fashion Club, which according to my sources had a reputation of being one L’viv’s HOTTEST clubs.
We strolled in, prepared to deal with some major Ukrainian Face Control, and were surprised that the smiling woman at the door excitedly waved us in with a surprisingly good English, “Please come in, enjoy yourselves!” Antonio and I glanced at each other; after a week of Face Control in Krakow and Odessa, we were kinda shocked how easy it was to get into this place. We paid our 100 Hr cover, looked around quickly to make sure we didn’t accidentally walk into some sort of strip club, and as we stepped into the thumping tent-covered and dimly candle-lit lounge/restaurant, we noticed 2 more things: 1) This place had awesome fucking music and cute girls everywhere, because Thursday was Ladies Night in L’viv and 2) We were easily the ONLY 2 Asians (or even non-Ukrainians) in the entire place and EVERYONE realized it. Antonio and I had picked the best night to party in the greatest club in L’viv, and we stuck out like two unicorns having tea in a McDonalds. But we stuck out in a good way!
As the music ramped up, the dancing started, and Antonio and I started drinking our go-to Jack and Diet’s with limes, we felt the curious glances and stares of the Ukrainian women on us. Everywhere we went that whole night, as we smiled and struggled to talk to the friendly but poorly-English speaking Ukrainians, we always got the same question “What the hell are you doing in L’viv/Ukraine?!?” We learned some interesting things, like the fact that L’viv identifies much strongly with Poland instead of Russian, because L’viv used to be part of Poland. That’s why much less Russian is spoken in L’viv, and why Ukrainian pride is much higher there. And also why people tend to be friendlier and why there is much less Face Control throughout the whole city. My brother and I realized that L’viv was probably one of the best places to party in Ukraine, and we were totally glad we had decided to stop by. After having a welcome drink with one group of friendly Ukrainians who invited us to their table, Antonio and I excused ourselves because we had something very important to do: We had to show off our mad Asian-American dance skillz to the throngs of Ukrainian women.
Antonio and I made a beeline to the direct middle of the dance floor, and started busting out our best pop-and-lock dance moves. The curious Ukrainian girls and ladies there for Ladies Night at Fashion Club slowly surrounded us to check out the even more curious dancing Asian American guys. For all I know, Antonio and I were possibly some of the coolest and only English-speaking Asian guys any of them had ever met. We were total unicorns and loving every moment. As we busted out every dance move we knew (The Shopping Cart, The LawnMower, The Q-Tips and Making the Pasta from “Hitch,” The Gay Helicopter, The Sexual Cowboy, etc), the screams of the Ukrainian girls and crowd reached a fever pitch. The Ukrainian MC, who was dressed like Will Farrell from “Night at the Roxbury,” totally amped up the crowd and yelled at us to “Get your motherfucking hands up, motherfucking hands up!” Suddenly the Ukrainian MC saw us chanting along with us, realized we were Americans, laughed his ass off into the microphone, and said to us “Oh my God, you guys are the only ones who actually know what I’m saying!!!” We. Were. Total. Unicorns.
After a ton of dancing, drinking, and a ridiculous bachelorette/Ladies Night show with a Ukrainian male stripper dressed up like an American Football/NFL player giving lap dances to screaming Ukrainian girls (like I said, EVERY Ukrainian club seemed to have some element of stripping associated with it), Antonio and I were spent. We had danced with hundreds of girls but somehow managed to get zero numbers or have any real conversations with none of them. But we didn’t care. This was the greatest night of our lives. This was the Eastern European party we had come for. It was fucking awesome. But we still wanted to try some other places, since we only had 2 real nights to party in L’viv. So as the crowd started winding down around 2 or 3 am, we blew kisses and said goodbye to the supremely awesome Fashion Club, crossed over a busy street to a small side street, and entered L’viv’s OTHER HOTTEST club: Raffinad People. The name meant nothing to us, and as the cover charge/coat check lady took our 100 Hr entrance fee we were kind of sad to see that the cellar hookah lounge/club initally looked kinda empty. We thought maybe we had left the best party ever for a total bust, but as usual Antonio and I were dead wrong. As the two bachelorette parties looked up from their wild dancing on the dance floor, Antonio and I looked at each other and thought the same thing: “Bingo!”
(TO BE CONTINUED…)