Don’t miss the hip flipside of Europe’s medieval gem
Words Oisin Lunny
Underneath Tallinn’s historic façade beats a cultural and economic heart that is thoroughly modern. While many visitors will be drawn to the Estonian capital’s well-preserved medieval Old Town, the nearby Telliskivi and Kalamaja districts embody a new wave of Estonian cool. We tracked down a host of local treasures to help you experience the best of modern Tallinn.
Tallinn Old Town
When you’ve finished marvelling at the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Old Town, be sure to grab one of the many signature cocktails served up by the expert mixologists at FRANK Underground (Sauna 2), a subterranean cocktail bar where the atmosphere is classy and timeless. Get comfortable in the discreetly lit wooden booths with leather upholstery, where you can sink a world-class Negroni and many other classics until 2am Weds-Sunday. Another excellent option for cocktails is the hard-to-find speakeasy Whisper Sister (Parnu mnt 12), call in advance to gain entry, and directions.
Craving somewhere a bit more rock ‘n’ roll? Check out the DM BAAR (Voorimehe 4) which, as the name suggests, is a bar named in tribute to Basildon synth rock legends Depeche Mode. The cosy underground venue manages to squeeze in an incredible amount of DM memorabilia, and many of the drinks are named in honour of their heroes, like the Black Celebration and Just Can’t get Enough. Don’t miss the photo gallery, where you can enjoy the sight of several members of DM paying a surprise visit and helping the locals to party like rockstars.
The Telliskivi district stands out as the exemplar of the hip new Tallinn. At its heart, a scenic 20-minute walk from the Old Town, lies the formerly abandoned industrial area of Telliskivi Creative City. The buildings have been transformed from overgrown husks to a genuinely thriving creative hub of shops, restaurants, music venues and galleries.
Start your experience with the best flat white in Tallinn at Fika Leib ja Kohv before exploring the many artisanal shops and local fashion boutiques next door. If you are shopping for gifts you might want to browse through the selection of books, poetry and upcycled book covers at the Puant bookshop, or pick up an exquisite handmade leather accessory at Mokoko. The adorable children’s clothes available at Dadamora are cute but with a knowing design touch. Bank some goodies for your fashionable friend’s child’s birthday.
The mission statement of stylishly minimalist Nordhale shop is “to reveal the essential, the slow, the minimal; the raw state of being.” Their path to eco-friendly nirvana involves a distinctive selection of bags, handbags, manbags, satchels and laptop covers all made from excess pieces of industrial felt from a nearby factory. Add a pair of sustainable TOKU shoes, also available in-store, and you have the ideal gift set for the style-conscious eco-warrior in your life.
From left to right: Nordhale; Mokoko; Elisa-Johanna Liiv, co-owner Puänt bookshop; Dadamora
Take a break from shopping to sample the culinary delights of F-hoone. Try the buckwheat with marinated tofu, mushrooms, paprika and avocado for breakfast, steak tartare with anchovies or grilled aubergine with tomato-lentil stew and ricotta-truffle salsa for lunch, or go for the knockout snack platter for sharing. Local beers, wines, vodkas, brandies and cloudberry gins are on hand to round off your experience in the tastefully restored 100-year-old industrial space. For more novel surroundings Peatus offers dining in two converted rail carriages.
After you have fulfilled your altruistic side it’s time for some self-gifting, and again Telliskivi provides plenty of options. The small but perfectly formed VARKKI shop is a showcase for the “everyday sophistication” of local designer Jaana Varkki and for other local artisans such as jeweller Krista Lehari, and also Kuula + Jylha, who make creative footwear and accessories. Had enough of boho minimalism and craving retro styles instead? Step up Oh My! boutique, which lists “Grace, Audrey, Elizabeth, Brigitte, Sophia and of course Marilyn” as its style icons, and stocks Mademoiselle YéYé, King Louie, Collectif, KURI MARI and Lindy Bop alongside their own label dresses and accessories.
On the cultural front, the recently opened Tallinn branch of the Stockholm-based Fotografiska photographic art centre is particularly stunning. Exhibitions running until mid-September include collections by Anna-Stina Treumund, Jimmy Nelson and Anja Niemi. Robert Doisneau’s iconic “Parisian Stories” exhibition runs at the nearby Juhan Kuus Documentary Photo Centre until the 18th August. Head to the Visit Tallinn website and check out their events calendar in advance of booking your trip.
The Telliskivi Creative City area really comes into its own at night, when clubs and music venues like Sveta Bar, Vaba Lava and Must Saal (which is joined to F-hoone) throw open their doors to an incredible variety of live music. One of the very best times to visit Tallinn is in spring during Tallinn Music Week (TMW), when much of Telliskivi is transformed into a buzzing SXSW-style music festival. Your TMW pass will enable you to access an array of local and international talent – this year’s edition offered everything from Russian queer disco legends SADO OPERA to kindergarten teacher-turned viral rap star Alyona Alyona.
The history of the Noblessner district dates back to 1912, when Russia’s principal submarine shipyard was established here by two St. Petersburg businessmen, Emanuel Nobel (nephew of Alfred Nobel) and Arthur Lessner. Today it’s an intriguing seafront quarter that combines the upmarket with the cutting edge of Tallinn cool. Remnants of the buildings’ former lives can be found in their distinctive architecture; the pyramid-shaped skylights were to limit injuries from falling glass when explosions blew out the windows – which may well have been a moot point, depending on the ferocity of the explosion.
The first building to be renovated was the appropriately named Shishi, an Estonian-Norwegian home decor brand offering vases, artificial flowers and trees, candelabras, candles and a wide variety of Christmas products. Shopping in Tallinn for Christmas decorations and gifts? Bring a spare suitcase and thank us later. If you fancy snapping up some bling from high end jewellery shop Baltic Brilliant you might also need to bring a spare wallet.
Those in search of authentic local craft beers in Noblessner don’t have to travel far, the Põhjala Taproom & Brewery is just next to Shishi. The bar has the wonderfully local touch of a private sauna where you can sink their cold IPAs while sweating them out at the same time.
From left to right: food at 180; chefs in 180’s kitchens
The crowning gem of Noblessner is the elegant waterfront fine-dining of the 180° restaurant, run by Michelin-starred chef Matthias Diether. The 180° ethos is to turn dining into “a multi-sensory escapade to remember,” and the restaurant is consistently ranked as one of the top restaurants in Tallinn. You might be wise to book your table early, just like tantric pop star Sting who popped by 180° for a bite to eat after his concert in June.
Another kind of Noblessner gem awaits the night owls amongst you. The former cultural centre for the workers of the submarine factory has found a magnificent new life as the nightclub HALL. The vibe is “long-lost Berghain”, a cavernous industrial space with a thundering sound system, where the near-darkness is punctuated by strobe lights. Your smartphone camera lens is stickered on the way in, and selfies are banned. This is a techno warehouse in which to get lost in music, an all-too-rare opportunity to be part of a genuinely underground clubbing experience.
September is a busy month in Noblessner. On the 20th the brand-new Kai Art Centre will be opened as part of the Tallinn Photomonth contemporary art biennial (September 6, 2019 – November 3, 2019), while the XIV Tallinn Design Festival will be held at Noblessner Foundry from 16th–22nd.
From its maximalist medieval grandeur to its minimalist boho chic, Tallinn is a buzzing city you may well fall in love with. Wherever and whenever you go there, we suspect you will return musically revived, culturally refreshed, and with a selection of exquisitely fashionable gifts you had no idea that you or your friends needed.
Oisin Lunny has been performing, producing and DJing since the early 90s, first with his band Marxman and then with his solo project Firstborn. Today he is a keynote speaker, composes music for film & TV, DJs globally, and sends out mixtapes to 12,000 friends via his website oisinlunny.com.