Riga’s coolest bar is not what you’d expect.
In a discreet basement just off Old Town Riga’s Dome Square, one musician is proudly preserving Latvian traditions through cultural performances, craft beer, and Baltic cuisine. While this combination gets guests in the door, it’s the tavern’s unmatched drink menu—including homebrewed, bizarrely flavored moonshine—that keeps them coming back.
Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs, a basement tavern in an ancient Riga wine cellar, opened to a warm reception from locals in 2009. Owner and musician Krišjānis Putniņš, an Australian native who moved to Riga in 2008, spent four years focusing on the tavern’s music scene. In 2013, he was ready for more. Moonshine quickly became Putniņš’ answer.
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“In 2013, there were no distilleries in Latvia making traditional drinks like moonshine,” Putniņš said. “We could only buy vodka or other similar commercial distillates, so we figured why not? We decided to give it a go and make real moonshine for ourselves.”
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Today, Folkklubs’ distillations go beyond the average moonshine. The team of distillers experiments with moonshine flavors ranging from honey pepper to garlic and horseradish to Chanterelle wild mushroom. Not surprisingly, guests found the latter blend particularly “crazy,” according to Putniņš.
In addition to its signature moonshines, Folkklubs draws beer lovers from around the world with an expansive draught lineup—the largest in all of Riga. With 27 beers including local breweries such as Valmiermuiža, Odzienas, and Malduguns, as well as an impressive selection of global taps and its own homebrewed Folkklubs cider, patrons rarely stick to one drink.
Fortunately, though, imbibing at Folkklubs is a budget-friendly decision. Putniņš launched his tavern as a place for friends and fellow locals to not only play music but enjoy affordable beer. Ten years later, he’s kept his promise. Prices in Folkklubs reach no more than €3.20 for specialty beer—a great deal in an already affordable country.
Beyond brews, Folkklubs serves up a unique assortment of Latvia’s most iconic cultural dishes—including herring, chicken liver, potato pancakes, and rye bread pudding—with a side of live entertainment. As a folk musician himself, Putniņš has an emphasis on not only entertaining but educating guests on the country’s cultural traditions. When he launched the tavern in 2009, folk music and cultural traditions were suffering due to decreased interest; he thought Folkklubs could be the answer.
INSIDER TIPWhile the symbol in the Folkklubs logo may look similar to a swastika, that is not the restaurant’s intent. This ancient mythological symbol, known as the Ugunskrusts, has been a cultural icon in Latvian history for centuries. “This [symbol] is known as both the cross of thunder and the cross of fire, which is the protective symbol of ancient Latvian beliefs. These substantially pre-date the swastika,” Aisma Grablovska of Folkklubs confirmed. “This is in no way associated with anything remotely similar to the swastika.”
Today, guests happily clap along as the Folkklubs main stage welcomes live performances from Latvia’s post and post-folk community, as well as a rotation of global musicians. Performances ranging from folk-jazz to karaoke and singing run at least five nights per week.
The tavern also pairs folk dancing alongside many live performances. Local and visiting guests are encouraged to join the cultural dancers—an invitation most patrons accept, particularly post-moonshine.
INSIDER TIPDon’t be surprised when there’s no host at the entrance. It’s up to guests to seat themselves; once seated, waiters come by for drink and food orders.
Despite Folkklubs’ ever-growing popularity—there’s a wait for tables and bar seats virtually every weekend—this cozy, cavernous basement remains consistent with Putniņš’ early vision. It’s a chill, no-frills destination where locals can drink good brews and enjoy live entertainment; the rustic, exposed brick walls and ancient vaulted ceilings further add to the tavern’s flair. Putniņš hopes this welcoming atmosphere will help locals and travelers leave with a better appreciation of Latvia’s distinct and charming culture.
“I wanted the bar to be a place where we could all meet as friends to play, sing, dance, and drink tasty local beer for cheap,” Putniņš said. “But I also wanted to showcase our traditions. We made modern versions of Latvian food and have popularized traditional music and culture so visitors can see how nice our traditional culture is.”