I have a thing for having a regular bar. Lately, that bar has been Butcher’s, located on Sheynovo Street in one of my favorite neighborhoods of Sofia. In the past year or so, it has been the place where I pop in, through the heavy velvet curtains at the door, for a drink after dinner in the next-door restaurant (of the same name and owners); the place where I go to meet friends for an early evening quick drink; or where I end up as a last stop on a long night of running around other parties in the city. During Sofia Design Week, I was bound to stumble into it almost nightly after the open-air party in the nearby Academy of Fine Arts’ courtyard had shut down, too early for the taste of the party-goers-turned-design-aficionados.
Even just over a year ago, Butcher’s was one of a handful of cool bars on Sofia’s otherwise lively nightlife scene. Though it has since been joined by several more – thus complicating the previously non-existent dilemma of where to go, it remains one of the coolest. It stays open late, the music is almost always good, the crowd without fail has familiar faces in it, and the bartenders are just the right mix of attentive and not-in-your-face. It’s a good place to go for a quiet chat with someone or to stumble in with a rowdy group.
But what really sets it apart is its interior – paradoxically the most minimalist Sofia’s bar scene has seen. In the smoky, just dark enough space, the polished concrete bar top stretches along its entire length, the old tables and chairs are pushed against the roughly finished walls, across from the hand-assembled bar stools that are so precarious that I vowed to not judge anyone falling off of them.
Down to its bathrooms (in the picture above*), which are unisex – to the confusion to those more prudishly inclined, Butcher’s has perfected the mix of shabby simplicity and good taste that so evades most of Sofia’s other watering holes.
Butcher’s, however, is probably just a temporary sidetrack from my usual regular bar, Hambara. With an interior that is also quite minimalist, but in a very different way and with very different results – wooden bar tops and high chairs and candles everywhere, it has held a special place in my heart for the past six-odd years, when it was really the only place where I always felt like stopping by. To this day, the bartender pours me my usual drink without waiting for me to order. As a result, Hambara has been the scene of all kinds of important events and celebrations for me – birthdays and name days, New Year’s nights, first and last dates, welcome back parties, post-wedding drinks and pre-departure gatherings. It’s now lost its underground feel to an extent – to get in before, one had to have a key or knock on the unmarked door, but it is still one of Sofia’s most special places. Without fail, it always arises fire hazard concerns among foreigners who visit it.
One place I don’t particularly like and where everybody most definitely does not know my name, is another recent newcomer to Sofia’s nightlife – the Culture Beat club. Its interior is too busy, too pretentious and trying too hard and its crowds are too self-consciously hip for me, but lately I have been ending up there quite frequently, because of friends (thanks a lot, Victor!).
Truth be told, though, I have actually kind of started to enjoy observing the vanity fair’s procession. And besides, watching the sunrise from its terrace almost makes me forget the annoying hipsters inside.
*Apologies to the guy who had to wait outside the bathroom while I took forever trying to get a good photo.