By Anatol Steven.
A few steps from Milda, Latvians’ affectionate name for the Freedom Monument, is a lively if modestly sized newish nightclub by the name of Mai Tai.
By day the venue masquerades as an excellent if slightly pricey spicy vegetarian restaurant called Buddha. The owner is a committed vegan.
By night, at least at weekends, the lights are dimmed amid a black interior and DJs and dancers come out to play. Cocktails, like the eponymous one, are mixed in lurid colors and everyone seems to wear a smile – and little else.
And who can blame them for that? It’s the tail-end of the warm season, and the young, beautiful and talented youth of Riga are keen to squeeze the most out of summer. Mai Tai gets its fair share of international visitors too. Mai Tai is close to a number of embassies and just across the park from the Old Town, and this could be described as a pretty classy club – though there’s no need to really dress up for it.
A VIP lounge at one end with framed TV and tables for reservation only attract bookings for parties of anywhere between two and 20 people. Heavy curtains are often drawn across the threshold of this exclusive zone.
The best time to witness Mai Tai is on a Friday or Saturday night, in the early hours, when the place could be heaving with a couple hundred people. Thursdays are a bit quieter, if that’s your thing.
Order a Long Island iced tea (€8.50), or a Polynesian-style Mai Tai, which comes in green, blue or pink and contains two rums – white and black. If you’re in a group, order six of these cocktails for a little over €21 and they’ll come nicely presented on a tray by the bartender.
Buddha’s comfortable street-side terrace of sofa-and-cushion seating remains open, where you can enjoy a plate of cheeses, fruit platters or ice cream – if you can stand the roaring engines of nocturnal racing motorbikes. Ask if they’ve got their unforgettable goji-berry ice cream (€7.90), or the flavorsome mango ice cream. It’s homemade, not straight from a supermarket. Spoon it up in time with the shifting basslines and alternating neon glows.