A Taste of Home


“You know, I don’t care much for real ale. I can’t stand beer that’s served warm.”

It’s the kind of line that might well land a punch from me. Or at least a glare. And I’m very good at glaring.

But I could forgive Bobby, as (a) it’s the first night of my holiday and (b) he’s Canadian. Brought up on diet of Labatts and maple syrup, it’s easy to see how his palate has been irretrievably damaged, and therefore incapable of knowing good beer when he tastes it.

That said, he’s doing very well on the Munchen, a dark cold beer, which despite its name is actually Estonian. And we’re in the best place to taste it – a bar simply called Drink. I like simple – though the selection of drink is so vast it comes on a clipboard. And they’ve got the menu about right too. A big fat chip butty to soak up the booze. I could be in a Wetherspoons.

Bobby and his mate are on a tour of northern Europe, which seems to consist of Warsaw, Tallinn and Amsterdam. Tomorrow, they tell me, they’re going to a museum of Russian submarines. That’s if they get up. It’s their second day in town and today breakfast was at 3pm in MacDonald’s. I like these guys.

“Nanu nanu – greetings,” says the next guy to walk into the bar, followed by a detailed explanation to the young waitress of the supposed comic reference to Mork and Mindy. Neither are old enough to have been born when that was on TV, so I can only assume he’s quite drunk.

Which is the right answer. I have no idea what he name is, but he says he’s from Finland and has been drinking for three days. I get the impression that he’s been abandoned by whatver friends he found along the way, not least when he asks for his lager to be served in a plastic glass. does he not know he’s in a bar called Drink?

Tallinn - one monumental drinking hole?
Tallinn – one monumental drinking hole?

Tallinn is pretty quiet on a Monday night, and the intermittent rain isn’t helping to draw in business. The cobblestoned streets are almost deserted and only a few bars seem to be doing anything in the way of trade.

One of them is Valli. My guidebook says “when the elderly regulars start swinging to the live accordion music, the atmosphere moves into the realms of the surreal”.

And it’s not wrong either. I perch myself on a corner bar stool, to be told by a woman from Mansfield that the seat belongs to Fred, and when he comes back I’ll have to give it up for him. At first, I assume that Fred is one of their travelling companions. And when a drunk man staggers towards us, I have no reason to think otherwise. Until he almost trips over me and says in “sorry” in a slurred local accent. Estonian is very different from Nottinghamshire.

It turns out that the couple from Mansfield were on the same flight as me today. “I normally drink mild,” says the woman. I notice she and her husband are sharing a large bottle of very dark local beer, with an ABV of 6.8%.

“You do know that that’s a bit stronger than mild don’t you?”

“Oh yeah – it’s lovely though isn’t it? Fred, it’s NICE isn’t it?”

Fred shakes his head and tries to find the door.

In the meantime, I try to get into the gents, a much harder task than I’d anticipated. The door’s locked, so a large local with a long beard advises me to knock, in case the occupant has fallen asleep. I knock and get a gruff reply, followed by a glare as hard as mine when the guy walks out. Brian Blessed falls about laughing. Toilet humour, it would seem, is alive and well in Tallinn.

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