The view from the monastery of St. Michael the Archangel (no. 6 below). You can see the dome of the Holy Eucharist temple also still known as the Dominican church.
Your guide: Joe Lindsley
Joe Lindsley is an American journalist collaborating with the team of Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub to create Lviv Now, English language stories for «Ukraine’s tech-friendly cultural capital.» Prior to the pandemic, Lindsley traveled the world, often leading groups of elite entrepreneurs on expeditions with outdoor adventures, culinary and bar tours, and special experiences not easily found. Here are his tips to experience an authentic time in Lviv.
«My Lviv Top Ten»: By Joe Lindsley
I believe Lviv is what Paris was in the 1920s: a city of special creativity and artistic collaboration. When Americans have come to visit, I have given them a secret list of biographies of people they will encounter, and the visitors have said they feel like they are entering into a Tolstoy novel. So if you’re a visitor looking to uncover the personality of a city, here are my recommendations. Each place name links to its Google maps location:
1. Fatset / Фацет: the home of «café society» and tasty Ukrainian food and spirits
This is where Lviv’s musicians, poets, painters, academics, writers, and philosophers gather. On good-weather days, and even chilly ones, the tables spill out of this tiny café into the car-free cobbles of Virmenska (Armenian) Street. With a cozy interior, bedecked with the owner’s paintings of rock stars and pastoral scenes, it’s well suited for conversation, sketching, or relaxing. But it’s not elitist: you can drink beer, bring the kids, etc. On a given day you might see a Dominican priest taking a coffee, two old friends having beers, an old artist sketching in the corner, and someone working on a laptop, while the staff trade stories with regulars.
Fatset has a menu of traditional Ukrainian dishes (varenyky, Green borsch, rabbit, duck, pelmini, salo, beet salad, etc.), plus modern-style salads and canapes. I also like the chili con carne. The owner’s–or as the Ukriainians say, «author’s»–homemade liquors, called nastoika, are each made from different herbs, berries, and nuts. There’s coffee, kvass (a very low-alcohol bready drink), homemade apple and grapefruit cider, house teas, local beer, and Transcarpathian wine. This is usually the first place I bring visitors, to try some salo and Ukrainian drink. It’s name is a slang word for «cool guy» or «dude,» and across the street is a sister kaveryna (café) called Fatsetka, «dudette,» more or less.
With the music and art venue Dzyga at the cul-de-sac end of the street, a few art galleries close at hand, and the famed former dissident café Virmenka a block away, Fatset’s neighborhood, the Armenian quarter is also the «artistic quarter» of Lviv’s center.
Related story: «People Need to be Scared of Being Fake.» Lviv Stories.
2. LV Cafe Jazz Club: In Corona-era, just maybe this has become the global nexus of great live music
With the Wednesday night jam sessions as its creative heartbeat, this venue in an undercroft hosts music most nights, except usually Monday. It’s become the main gathering spot for Lviv’s best jazz and folk musicians, with many showing up here to listen or join the stage after playing gigs elsewhere around town. The collegiality of the staff, musicians, and regulars create a family-like or clubhouse atmosphere.
Here I’ve seen New York level of talent–including world-class visitors like Kamasi Washington who stayed and played until nearly 8 o’clock in the morning, but with the down-home spirit of a New Orleans juke joint, which makes the LV Café, in my mind, not only tops in Lviv but in the world.
There’s a great menu of deruny (potato pancakes) with various toppings, burgers, chicken steaks, salad, wine and cheese plates, plus a full bar of cocktails, beer, and wine. It’s a welcoming place with soulful music and a free spirit.
I previously wrote about it here: «The Music of Free People in Lviv», «Sunrise Jams with the Legends: Lviv’s New Musical Moment,» and «Adele’s Pianist Eric Wortham: Lviv Is ‘Breeding Ground for Artistic Explosion.»
3. My Wine Natural Wine: A place of conversation and culture
This wine shop is another excellent spot to talk with some of the most interesting people in Lviv, who gather around the single giant oak table to taste samples, split a bottle, have some snacks, and chat. The owner, Nicholas, his wife, Ina, and their colleague Max are gracious hosts taking the time to talk with their guests and to share knowledge about wine and food. Max is also sommelier at the Bank Hotel’s restaurant. Nicholas speaks as a philosopher, dispensing insights about life, Ukraine, wine, chess, and more.
Many of the wines on offer are natural or biodynamic, meaning they are less processed than what you might otherwise find. A number of them are truly natural and wild wines; in fact, I first heard of this place from a natural wine expert in Sweden. You can also find some intriguing Ukrainian wines and a good selection of spirits. Because Nicholas and Ina are gourmands who like to eat well and healthily, the shop has an array of specialty food from throughout Europe: cheeses, caviar, milks, salamis, fish liver, special Spanish potato chips, juices, mueslis, etc.
I consider this one of the top ten wine-drinking spots in the world.
4. Sino: World-class bespoke cocktails, with neighborhood bar friendliness
On my first visit to Lviv, late summer 2019, I entered this place during their first week of operation. Since then, co-founder Andrii Osypchuk has been named a top ten bartender in the world by global spirits firm Diageo and Sino has been recognized as top ten in Ukraine by a national magazine. Here you can order classic cocktails or have a conversation with any bartender who will make you something bespoke and always world-class. Unlike many such high-level places, the staff are friendly and welcoming and focused on the guest.
I’ve seen some people come in and just order an Aperol Spritz, but here you might want to try something new. Tell the bartender, say, you want something slightly sweet with gin and Chartreuse and see what happens. As often as possible, Sino uses local ingredients and cordials, often made with ingredients forged by the bartenders. It’s name «Sino» is Ukrainian for hay (see the hay in the glass above right), which denotes the bar’s local, earthy, down-home aura.
This is one of my world’s best drinking spots.
5. Pretty High Kitchen: No menus: Just talk to the chef and see what happens
Part of the Fest «restaurants of emotions» group, this place is rather secretly located at the top floor of a centuries-old building on the Rynok Square: You keep walking up the steps past two other secret restaurants until you reach the airy, whimsical dining room. Here there are no proper waiters or waitresses: Instead you speak with a chef and he or she comes up with something to cook for you.
The secret, I think, is to say anything you can’t or won’t eat and then ask what’s fresh today (mushrooms, meat, veggies, etc.). Then perhaps tell the chef a spice or seasoning or sauce you like--and let the kitchen work its magic, or what format you want to have your food (soup, three-courses, just one dish, etc.). If you’re too specific, I think you will be disappointed but when I let the kitchen run with its creativity, I have always had a great meal.
Centaur: If you want to try Ukrainian borsch in a comfortable setting, go here, on the other side of Rynok from the Pretty High Kitchen. It’s served with crispy brown bread and tasty salo butter. The rest of the menu is great, too, and you can drink Ukrainian sparkling wine or local beer. Kindrat: Every weekday, until at least 15:00, they offer a four-course business lunch of traditional Ukrainian food including a shot of their homemade liquor, a different variation each day, all for about $6.
6. Monastery of St. Michael: A waiting room for eternity, amid haunting chants and inspiring light
This 17th century building was once was a Carmelite monastery, then Soviet times it became a storage facility. Now it is a Greek Catholic monastery run by the Studite order. Its spectacular baroque ceiling, though a little faded, reminds me of the astounding ceiling of London’s Banqueting House, by the Flemish painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens.
In the eastern style there are no pews, just a few chairs and benches, which makes the place feel like a train-station waiting room for eternity. Whether the monks are chanting or a guest-choir in singing, the sounds of human voices here are always mesmerizing. You can stand in a dark corner, lit by green or red light from candles, and contemplate.
Read more: «Spiritual burpees in Lviv»
7. Armenian Cathedral: Psychedelic murals that seem to move
The cathedral of the Armenian Othordox church, though with the Armenian Catholics allowed to have masses, is named for the Assumption or Dormition of the Virgin Mary. It’s a 14th century building that has hosted many variants of Christianity. In the early 20th century, Jan Henryk Rosen painted astounding images–murals that seem to move. I like to sit and contemplate the scene of the death-march of St. Odilon, on the left side: Each monk-pallbearer looks in a different direction, creating an astounding effect of movement, and each figure precedes a ghostly representation, creating a multi-layered almost psychedelic scene. Look at the intensity of the eyes. Near the altar-rail, on the right side, is a haunting, wild, and in-motion depiction of the beheading of St. John the Baptist., which seems to flash in the mind like scenes from a movie by Armenian director Serhii Parajanov (incidentally, one block away you can visit an Armenian restaurant named for and inspired by this director, who also made the Ukrainian classic, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which helped in Soviet time to reawaken love for Ukrainian culture of the Carpathian mountains).
Bonus: The same muralist also applied his talent to the walls of a tiny hidden chapel now run by the Dominican monks, of the Latin (western rite). For sure it is open every Sunday at noon and 19:30 for Latin rite Mass; you walk down a dim strange hallway with little offices and shops and then find a door on the left bearing a Mass schedule. Look for the image of St. John Vianny: he appears stately until you look at his feet, in humble shoes and pointed awkwardly towarde each other: the artist’s little detail that shows character.
8. Tante Sophie: Ukrainian snails, croissants, and blackberry wine, amid Provençal vibes
Some say these are the best croissants in Lviv, especially when served with local rose jam. The restaurant–whose exterior is a popular photo spot–is especially known for its snails, produced from its own local farm and exported around Europe. They offer twelve sauces–the truffle and provençal are perhaps my favorite. Snails are a power food, especially when served with mushrooms and eggs for brunch. You can also enjoy duck, filet mignon, French onion soup, rillette, salad Nicoise, and roast beef in tuna sauce. Within you feel you are in a French country tavern; or you can enjoy the alfresco pleasures of eating on Lesi Ukrainki Street, which on a good-weather day might be one of Europe’s loveliest streets, filled with people at little tables on cobblestones. Many locals love the homemade blackberry wine and chardonnay but there is also a decent wine list.
9. Dos Almas: Play chess, eat delicious sandwiches, and drink like Hemingway
You don’t come to Lviv to eat Caribbean food but as of September 2021 you can. In my travels, I’ve had many great Cubano sandwiches–ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and bacon or salami–and Dos Almas’s Cubano is at least as good if not better than my favorites in New York or New Orleans.
At the newly opened Dos Almas, the sandwich is made with Ukrainian brown bread instead of white and of course with delicious local pork. The cocktails, developed by the aforementioned Andrii Osypchuk are first-class, many of them rum-based or daiquiri variations, which you can sip alongside a creative mural of Ernest Hemingway, consisting of titles of his books and stories in both Ukrainian and English.
The tacos and chili con carne are also top-notch–enough to make me feel I’m back in Mexico City. Taking inspiration from a trip to Cuba, the Ukrainian owner, Volodymyr, put his soul into this place, named Two Souls. You can also play chess at the boards inland in your table; just ask for the pieces.
10. Stryiskyi Park: Belle epoch splendor and idyllic paths, in summer’s green or winter’s white
Lviv has many great parks: Overlooking the center, the forested High Castle, with paths for walking or running, gives you a commanding view of the city and surrounding fields, hills, and mountains. The Bald Mountain is more exclusively for locals, with great views and a nearby shelter-park with wolves, foxes, owl, etc. Shevchenkivsky Hai (Grove), also in a forest, offers mystical glimpses into the past with a collection of old Ukrainian houses and churches--and some nice food and drinks amid the trees. Ivan Franko is a classic city park, reminding me of Paris, with its sloping brick promenade and winding paths. The park around the Gunpowder Tower is a living-room for the city: Adjacent to the old city, it offers a court for boules or bocci, another for basketball, a playground, a skating park, and an outdoor gym.
But Stryiskyi is the most magnificent: full of stone follies and winding paths amid greenest green or pure snow, it brings you to the Belle Epoche, especially if you chance upon a violinist or traditional musician. I’d recommend stopping first at the nearby healthy food kav’yarnya (café) and bakery Tsi Kava (a play on «Interesting» and «Coffee»), reminiscent of a Parisian corner café, and take some food for a picnic after passing Striy’s gated entry and a pond with white and black swans.
Up the hill at the far end of the park, through a colonnade of trees, is the pleasant campus of the Ukrainian Catholic University, more or less the Harvard of Ukraine.
Coming soon: We’ll be posting other top ten list from natives and expats alike. And soon we will offer tips for excursions beyond Lviv. We welcome feedback and ideas via Facebook messenger.
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Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.