Halloween Weekend in Tbilisi: Friday

I had quite a weekend.

Friday was a friend’s birthday. A group of ten of us gathered at a place called “coffee.ge” down in the very posh Vera district. Coffee.ge has some merits and some flaws, which I will detail here. If the “flaws” parts bother you, feel free to skip on ahead.

First, coffee.ge serves Starbucks coffee. Is this a merit or a flaw? Hard to say… Starbucks, for me, isn’t about the coffee – which I understand is somewhat middle-of-the-road in terms of taste and quality, and which I understand many Starbucks barristas routinely ruin through incompetence. Starbucks has always been about the environment, and the whole experience of Starbucks – the muted green and brown tones, the comfy chairs, the places to plug in your laptop, the weird writing on the tables and the coffee-kitsch decorating all the shelves. Not to mention the indie-rock playlists and the relatively clean bathrooms.

Coffee.ge doesn’t have this at all. It’s stuffy and smoky and very brightly lit, and it’s more of a restaurant than a cafe, frankly. You come in, you are seated and waited on, there is a full menu… between the menu and the lighting and the ambiance in general, coffee.ge ends up giving you the feeling of being in a slightly more upscale version of a New Jersey diner, back when people could still smoke in restaurants. Not that there’s anything wrong with that atmosphere – it’s just no Starbucks, which leads me to wonder, why bother selling Starbucks coffee? It’s just a name to draw in expats and Americophiles.

The next thing is that coffee.ge has a menu of Western foods. You can order various kinds of hamburger, pizza, pasta dishes – I highly recommend the Four Cheese pasta (quatro fromaggio, or something like that, pardon my lack of desire to look up the proper Italian right now). However, the hamburger was distinctly not hamburger-y. I don’t know what I expected. I mean, it was good – but the beef was oddly spiced and probably not quite the cut I’m used to, the “cheddar” cheese was obviously Swiss or Edamer or something, and the bacon was okay, but just slightly off. And the bun was one of those thick, extra bread buns with the hard crust. Nothing wrong with that, again, it’s just… The burger wasn’t so much a regular American hamburger as it was a sort of interesting variation on a hamburger such as you might get if you went to a really fancy restaurant in the hip parts of Brooklyn where they are embarrassed about serving American food so they put subtle or not-so-subtle variations on every ingredient.

And I’m not going to lie – it was delicious. It was a delicious, delicious hamburger-like food item. So if you want something that’s not Georgian food and is delicious, go have one, but don’t expect it to feel like home.

And last, I’ll say that the service left much to be desired. I’ve eaten in many Georgian restaurants and I’ve never had a complaint about the service – even when they didn’t speak a hint of English, I have just enough Georgian to order my კაბაბი and my კარტოფილი ფრის and my ნატახტარი ლუდი and leave the restaurant happy and satiated. However, at coffee.ge, for whatever reason, they just weren’t able to give us the service that we wanted. They didn’t come over and ask to take our drink orders, so we sat around for about twenty minutes just spinning our wheels. Then we ended up ordering food and drinks at the same time – just because we were so hungry after all that waiting – which means that we all had to wait for all ten people to get their food orders in before the drink orders went in, which compounded the problem, and for some reason the drinks took like fifteen minutes to get to us after we ordered. The waitress got my order wrong – I’ll chalk that one up to a language barrier – and then the appetizers that we ordered ended up coming after the entrees. Long enough after the entrees that we were all finished eating, and considered canceling the apps because there didn’t seem to be a point in sitting around waiting for finger food after we had already eaten our meals.

I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and say that they just weren’t prepared to deal with a group of ten people – a flaw in service, but not necessarily uncommon – except that even if the service had been spot-on, there’s still the fact that the place was bright and stuffy and uncomfortable and the food was on the expensive side and the drinks were way on the expensive side. Personally, I would not recommend the place overall, although it wasn’t so bad that I wouldn’t go back if someone invited me.

After coffee.ge, we went to a Halloween party at a bar called “Pub John Silver.” I was concerned that this place would be smoky and overcrowded and sketchy in a bad way, but despite my apprehension, it actually didn’t suck. They had 3 lari Argo bottles, which is less than the average bar markup, so I’ll consider that cheap (they usually run me about 1.8 lari). The ambiance was kitschy in a good way, and I’d say it actually met the standards of a good hipster bar. There was a band that played English songs, and when they launched into a somewhat obscure Nirvana song (“School”) that I had nevertheless heard very recently, I realized that this was one of the bands I’d seen play at Gldaniland on Tbilisoba.

The crowd was almost entirely TLGers, although there were a few Georgians and a few interesting cross-cultural clashes. One of my Georgian friends pulled me over to her to ask me what the name was for the dance that a particular group of people were doing, and after a few moments I came up with the word “grinding” although to be honest I’m not even sure it’s still called that. It was funny, though, because she had the same reaction to this dancing that many Americans have when they first see it, which is basically that if you’re going to dry hump each other you should do it in private. Personally I grew up with that sort of thing – if you can believe it, that’s how people danced at the school dances I went to in Junior High, which was ages ten through thirteen – so it doesn’t faze me at all to see adults doing it. Although, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done to live rock’n’roll music before, so that was new.

Then there was the fight I had to break up. Long story short, one of the Americans was drunk and dancing with a Georgian girl, and some of the other Americans – i.e. the ones who knew how old this particular girl was – decided to step in and tell him that it wasn’t appropriate for his hands to be wandering all over this particular girl. He took offense and became highly aggressive, and one of my friends called me over to deal with it, and when I got there I saw a standoff where the aggressive guy was just oozing “I want to kick your ass” body language. I placed myself between the two people, told the less aggressive one to walk away several times, until he did, and then talked the other guy down.

I’ve taken a number of martial arts and self defense classes, and most of them stress the importance of avoiding confrontation and using force only as a last resort. This is good advice – it’s better to be able to avoid and/or defuse fights than to actually get into fights. If I had to choose between knowing how to fight and knowing how to talk people out of fighting, I’d choose the latter any day of the week. I’ve only been in one situation in my life where I’ve actually had to use any of the fighting skills I’ve learned (some guy sucker-punched me on the subway), and in retrospect if I’d been a little bit less stressed and distracted that day I could have easily avoided it.

Also, the incident sort of reinforces what TLG was saying: you’re in another country, the culture is somewhat different, and there’s a language barrier. It would be best if you are careful about how you interact with Georgians, and try not to do anything that might not be considered culturally acceptable here. It would also be best to stay sober enough to navigate these kinds of incidents and not lose control of your impulses.

Anyway. Overall, the night was lots of fun. I felt proud of myself for defusing a tense situation, I caught up with a couple of TLGers from my group who I hadn’t spoken with in a while, I made a few more friends, and I didn’t spend too much on alcohol. I ended up splitting a cab home with another TLGer who lives in Gldani, so we saved some bucks there too. I definitely would go back to Pub John Silver.

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