Today my friend Liliya brought me to the Shtuka Art Cafe in the old Jewish Quarter of the city. The first thing that caught my eye was the words written on the walls. Although I don’t read Ukranian, Polish or Hebrew it was obvious that the building had lived another life before Shtuka.
Stepping through the door is like stepping back in history. There are so many things to see you really don’t know where to look first. It was extremely fortunate that the owner, Eugene was on site, and gave Liliya and I a walk back through history.
The cafe was established in 1909 by a Polish man from Krakow who had an interest and background in art. This was that place where prominent artists were invited to have exhibitions of their work and sell their paintings. They sometimes traded their work for meals.
In 2009 The interior of the cafe was updated and since then Eugene has had more than 110 exhibits of art, photography, drawings, music and readings in the cafe. Once a month people with an interest in the history of the district of Galicia, which is where L’viv is located, meet to discuss or listen to lectures about this history.
As my breakfast arrives Eugene begins to point out historical items in the cafe and describe their rebirth/renovation. “Look at the ceiling”. He said it took 5 students from the art college 6 months with special erasers to remove the grime covering the original paintings on the ceiling.Obviously, when your eyes are looking up, you notice the original light fixtures and glass shades … All rescued from other buildings or discovered in antique shops.
All of the framed photographs, have the original printed name of the photo studio on the photo.
Have you ever seen an original stereopticon? Like conjoined twins, these photos are seen through a special viewer that was dubbed “the magic lantern”. You can look on the web and find photos of stereopticons, but Eugene has an original framed with the photos.
In addition to the photos, Eugene also found in the basement of the building, a Hebrew school poster which he has framed and hung just inside the door.
More than a decade ago, and my first visit to Florence, Italy my travelling companion said to me “do you need to touch everything”? and I replied with a smile, “yes’ I do”! I am a tactile person and love to touch all kinds of materials so I HAD to run my hands over the recovered tiles, that Eugene had saved, from buildings that were being either demolished or renovated.
Meet Eugene and Liliya and the current photography exhibition.
Then there is the memorabilia like the candy boxes and very small glasses for alcohol beverage consumption. Here is the story … in 1882 the first confectionery plant “Branka” was founded in L’viv, two decades later the “Gazet” factory appeared and together they manufactured 5 tons of sweets per year. Yes the number is correct! In Soviet times the two confectioners formed the basis for the large “Svitoch” factory established in 1962. They operated under special conditions where typically, experiments in chocolate recipes would be restricted and thought of as going beyond the standardised Soviet manufacturing framework which was not allowed here … but. the employees found this stimulating. The product was so good, it resulted in chocolatiers from all over the Soviet Union coming to study and adopting these practices. These chocolates and candies were rated as the best gourmet sweets in Ukraine. The Soviet government was won over by chocolates!
These special products were exported and Ukraine was the chocolate capital of the USSR. Today, the international food giant Nestle is the owner but it does not stand out so much anymore from all of the competitors in the market.
So why am I telling you the story of these chocolates? It is because Eugene has rescued original containers from these historic chocolate factories.
Up to this point at this little cafe we have history, art, poetry, photography, ceramic tiles, ceiling paintings, lighting and now to the story of the rescued piano.
One day Eugene came across a residence that was being updated and he saw a man trying very hard to push a piano out into the street. Fortunately, the piano was stronger than the man and he could not complete the task on that day. Eugene found the owner of the piano and negotiated the sale of same. He then had the piano restored on the inside (the guts). The outside at the piano is beautiful and the only thing he had to do was clean it and put a little oil and what appears to be rosewood. The piano is actually used for musical evenings in the cafe.
And, last, but far from least … the coffee and pastries are splendid.
PS:. The Shtuka Cafe has been awarded Best Art Cafe in Lviv, 4 consecutive years.
Well, gotta go. Liliya and I will be returning to the Shtuka tonight for a guitar evening.
Young, soulful guitarist