Why you should care
Here you can enjoy crafted suds and hide from your partner.
In a regular bar you can drink craft beer with five, 10, maybe 20 brews on offer. Or you can go underground, literally, and have your choice of more than 100. Visiting craft-beer mecca Bambalyne requires a trip to Lithuania, an often-overlooked European destination. It’s worth racking up the miles, though, because not only is it a beer-lover’s heaven, it proudly keeps its patrons off the grid. Craft beer is the star here, not your Snapchat story.
Blink and you might miss Bambalyne’s black, metal sign with hanging bottles tucked away in the Old Town of Vilnius on a narrow, medieval cobblestone street. The entrance to its intimate, three-room cellar — where a chalkboard displays how many craft beers are available that day and promises everyone will find their favorite — is through an archway and down a set of stairs. It’s the smell that hits you first upon entering: beer, man sweat and meat (the bar serves snacks, such as kibinai, the Lithuanian pastry stuffed with mutton and onion, and meat pies).
… from the country’s 100 breweries that produce more than 800 types of suds.
The lack of air flow could make you turn back, but you wouldn’t dare once you’ve seen the coolers packed full of craft beer lining the wall. And they’re not imports. Depending on the season, there are up to 150 Lithuanian beers available, from the country’s 100 breweries that produce more than 800 types of suds. Bambalyne’s a self-serve joint, where you grab what you want and pay at the counter. Staff is on hand to offer recommendations, tell you a bit of history on Lithuanian craft brewing and give you (arguably) the most important piece of information about the bar: There’s no Wi-Fi or cellular signal available.
This is where you come to hide from your significant other, a female staffer told me, with a huge grin, on my first visit. Brilliant! And it’s a hideout by design. “My idea is that people come to us to drink beer and chat to each other,” says director Gintarė Orlauskienė, whose family opened the bar in 2010. “No Facebook or Instagram” allowed. The limited number of Arthurian-esque chairs and tables, crowded together under a domed brick ceiling and chandelier or haphazardly positioned among beer artifacts, does make it hard to separate yourself from strangers. It creates a welcoming, communal atmosphere where it’s easy to sneak a peek at what others are drinking, in order to prep for your next round.
Bambalyne is open to stocking beer from any of the brewers across the country, but with limited space, preference is given to the creations of small craft breweries such as Sakiškių, Krafto, Bravoras Apynys and cannabis-friendly Taruškų Alaus Bravoras. The requirement to make it into the bar’s coolers is simple, Orlauskienė confides: “We don’t ask anything from breweries — just offer our guests a tasty beer.” That they do, plus Lithuanian wine and cider too.
It’s no simple feat choosing what to drink at Bambalyne. I quite enjoyed Munkebo Mikrobryg and Genys’ collaboration Claus’trophobia, made with blueberries (it’s purple!). Thankfully, with the cost of a pint low — starting around €2 (about $2.30), you can afford more than one libation — and the city is small, so it’s easy to stumble home to answer the inevitable question: “Where have you been?!” The dead-battery excuse could come in handy here … as well as a Tic Tac.