The Venue: Lorka

Good old Shishman street, in the Sofia city centre – a shabby little stretch of road spanning from Graf Ignatiev Boulevard, to the Horse’s Arse, as Sofians lovingly refer to the rear side of the statue onTsar Osvoboditel Square, separating the SAS Radisson hotel from that other favourite building, the Bulgarian Parliament.

You would think that the locals wouldn’t want to touch a street that runs all the way to the Parliament with a 10-foot pole, and yet Shishman has established itself as one of the most frequented locations in the city centre, with a string of decent pubs on it, or nearby. Usually, when one talks of “Shishman”, one refers not only to the actual street, but everything else in the immediate perimeter.

Lorka is not a new pub. In fact, it is not even a nice-looking pub. Standing outside the building, the unassuming image of it all, and the dodgy staircase leading down to the basement where the pub is located, and the even dodgier staircase leading up to the restaurant, or whatever they have on top, will probably make one think twice about venturing in. But though first impressions are unflattering, you should definitely venture in, because what awaits the customer inside is a potential blast of a night.

Mainly a younger crowd, consisting of locals, foreigners, and other Bulgarians from further afield is to be expected on regular basis. Tourists, expats, those who accidentally ended up there, not knowing what country they’re in, and those who know where they are but wish they weren’t, could all be expected around the bar.

You are likely to meet people from just about any walk of life, and spring up a decent casual conversation with either the customers or the ultra-friendly staff. That’s right, ultra-friendly staff. Don’t be surprised to go to Lorka with the honest and genuine intend to have couple of beers before leaving.

That is of course, until you meet the feisty, fiery-eyed redhead bartender and her equally charming friend, who will happily drown you in shots, half of which are usually on the house. Another thing: do not attempt contemplating to out-drink the feisty redhead in a tequila shot competition. A dozen shots later, she will smile at you as if nothing ever happened, while you’d be probably half way on the floor, thinking you were struck by a goods train. And no, she doesn’t water-down her shots. You’ve been warned.

Super-friendly staff, good customers, cheap booze (pints at 2.50 and spirits at about four-five leva, depending on what you fancy) is further complimented by an excellent taste of music – contemporary, alternative, with the occasional Iron Maiden and AC/DC thrown in, or the Real McKenzies for a better drinking inspiration.

The music, as said, is great, that is unless of course you happen to go there on That day of the week. We cannot be certain of the day, it could be Thursdays, it could be Wednesdays, it may or may not even be all Thursdays or Wednesdays. But be on the alert.

We’ve caught them on at least two occasions – a “live band” consisting of a lass who apparently sings, a bloke with a violin, and another bloke who is playing on something which resembles a cross between a portable keyboard that looks suspiciously like a breathaliser, a recorder, and something mauled and beheaded on the side of a motorway. The performance goes on for hours. It is monotonous, boring, annoying, and could lead to either sudden and urgent suicidal tendencies, or the irresistible desire to assault the person near you. Even the garbage that is Chalga sounds better, and that is truly frightening. Best avoided at all cost.

Lorka is a pub which is a must, at least once. Granted, there have been quiet nights, with just the staff inside, but that is usually the odd Tuesday on a rainy evening. If you go there on a Friday or Saturday, you are guaranteed a good time, and the usual overcrowding at the bar. Just remember to walk to the corner of Slavyanska Str and Shishman, and once you are through the door, take the stairs leading down to the basement. Remember also that should you hear a strange sound from a bizarre instrument, you are best to turn around and leave – Bilkova and One More Bar, after all, are just a stone’s throw away.