Berlin Is Out, Tbilisi Is In: Georgia's Capital Is This Year's Most Exciting City
Tbilisi is having a moment.
It’s obvious from the moment you mention to just about anyone that you’re heading to Georgia. And surprisingly, more and more people are in the know enough to ask – the state or the country?
But what exactly is it about this tiny Caucasian country with a total population just under four million that’s causing not just the most curious of travelers, but travelers of all kinds, to flock there? Well, it could be the stylish new hotels that have popped up in the city. Or the country’s pro-Western mentality that has moved them in a more global direction (Georgia is a member of the UN and the Council of Europe), even leading to the recent legalization of the consumption of marijuana. Or it could be their 8,000 year old winemaking techniques. Or maybe it’s the chacha. Oh, the chacha.
While one can’t be exactly sure, whatever it is, it’s making Tbilisi one of the most exciting cities to visit this year.
Stepping into Stamba Hotel, a former Soviet-era publishing house turned boutique hotel, it’s obvious why people are talking (or more accurately, raving) about this 42-room Georgian oasis, which only opened back in May. Situated in the city’s Vera neighborhood, a neighborhood known for its bohemian vibes and quaint cafes, the hotel feels like a place that perfectly embodies today’s Tbilisi: a city with no shortage of character and depth, grace and style, ambition and perseverance.
While the public spaces – from the industrial jungle-meets-library lobby to the surprisingly cool Aviator Casino and the old meets new pink bar tucked inside the Stamba Café – the rooms (and their amenities) are the real reason people are heading here.
Think freestanding gold antique-style bathtubs, La Marzocco espresso machines (complete with a full-size coffee grinder), impressive mini-bars, Brooklyn ‘Jazz Club’ scented toiletries and insanely cool McIntosh hi-fi stereos.
But the hotel is still a work in progress. There are plans for the hotel to eventually offer 150 rooms, there’s a soon-to-open glass-bottomed rooftop pool directly above the lobby and a photo museum will open in the third wing of the building this month.
And while Stamba is receiving an outpouring of attention right now, sister property the Rooms Hotel (of which Stamba shares the block) shouldn’t be overlooked either – they were the golden child for the last six years, after all. At a lower price point, the vibe at Rooms is much more relaxed – think rustic chic meets contemporary comfort.
Both hotels have become a place in the city not just for travelers, but for locals as well. You’re more likely to hear Georgian being spoken in the restaurants and public spaces than English, and there’s something to be said about that.
Marijuana consumption was legalized in July.
As the first former Soviet Republic to legalize marijuana use, Georgia’s progressive attitude is what makes it such an exciting place to be right now. Young locals are very passionate about moving the country forward and they aren’t afraid to make it known – demonstrations and rallies are acts of defiance that the city’s youth are taking on without looking back. And it’s making a difference.
So much so that on July 30th, 2018 the Constitutional Court of Georgia ruled that “consumption of marijuana is an action protected by the right to free personality" and that "[Marijuana] can only harm the user's health, making that user him/herself responsible for the outcome. The responsibility for such actions does not cause dangerous consequences for the public." While it’s still illegal to buy or sell marijuana, and really even to have it on you – and especially still illegal to consume it in public (and in the presence of children) – being high is no longer the ‘highly punishable’ crime that it once was.
Whether it’s a rally in support of marijuana legalization or a protest rave voicing the discontentment of an armed raid by police in one of the city’s most popular dance clubs, the city’s youth are passionate about seeing Georgia change for the better. And because of that, it will.
And while Georgian wine is having a moment, it’s all about drinking chacha in the city.
And while the city is going through an exciting transition, some things will never change. Like the way they’ve been making wine for 8,000 years.
But it’s not the wine that people are getting excited about. It’s the chacha. And no, not that chacha – the chacha I’m referring to is the Georgian brandy that locals can’t go a night without consuming. And it’s practically a way of life in the city. Locals drink it like water, making their tolerance for the stuff pretty impressive – which leads me to warn you: never try to outdrink a Georgian, I promise it does not end well.
And tours like Eager Tourist’s Local’s Only Nightlife Tour are a good way to get acquainted with the stuff when you don’t have a local chacha connoisseur to consult when arriving in the city. The tour (which isn’t your typical tour, as I’m sure you could imagine) takes you to places less known to out-of-towners, such as the dive bar Meoba and Bauhaus – one of the hottest places in the city over the summer months, where cool locals overflow into the park, eventually turning the patio space into a dance floor, after what I can only assume has been many, many hours – and shots – of chacha.
But the best part of drinking this local spirit doesn’t come until the next day, when, feeling as though you could never look at the stuff again (but you will), only khachapuri, the deliciously indulgent bread boat of cheese and butter dish, or khinkali, Georgia’s famous broth and meat dumplings, can save you from yourself. Which is further proof that everything resolves around chacha – even the food in Georgia.