I have come a long way from being the girl who was scared of entering English countryside pubs solo. A long way. Now, I head to cities with the determination to make a thorough investigation of their growing cocktail scene. And if that requires sitting at the bar alone? No problem. When I planned my return to Kharkiv, I decided my sole purpose was to do what I do best, ie. perch on a bar stool and imbibe in delicious drinks, all in the name of discovering the best Kharkiv cocktail bars.
Kharkiv is, to me, one of the coolest cities in Ukraine, but even Ukrainians looked at me in bemusement when I told them how excited I was to re-visit the city. They’re surprised I made it a point to go even once. It often gets overlooked in favor of the more charming facades of Lviv and Odessa. But with its Soviet history, restrained but refined architecture, and vibrant student life, Kharkiv buzzes with a nonchalant local energy. Like, she’s happy you’re here and enjoying yourself, but pleasing the tourist crowd isn’t her main concern.
Pst, do you plan on doing more than just bar-hopping in Kharkiv? Read about my first weekend in Kharkiv – scroll to the bottom of the post for suggestions on what to do.
Which was part of the reason why I was so stoked to check out the Kharkiv cocktail bars. While I strive to be an expert on the scene in Kyiv, the bars there seem to be struggling to outdo each other and frequently I’m turned away from bars that are half-empty with ‘reserved’ signs scattered all over the tables. Going out for a cocktail is becoming a thing, like one you have to get all worked up for, which is the total opposite of the chill cocktail-sipping experience I look for.
But what I love about hanging out at Kharkiv cocktail bars – and about the Ukrainian cocktail scene in general – is seeing how much respect the bartenders have for each other. As I toured the Kharkiv cocktail bars, diligently researching for this post, the bartender at Fabrika praised up-and-coming Beatnik Bar, the guy at Beatnik gave me running approval as I rattled off my favorite Kiev cocktail bars, and the waitress at Benedict Daily double-checked my Kharkiv to-do list. These are the places I want to hang out, a place where the community extends far beyond the bar itself.
On my first trip to Kharkiv, I was so impressed by Fabrika that I ended up going twice in a 48-hour window. First of all, the menu is one of the most exciting I’ve flipped through in a long time. Inventive without being alienating, the cocktail list makes it hard to leave after just one drink. And I love Farbika’s space. Located outside the center, its airy converted warehouse design makes it a great venue for large groups of friends or mingling along the extensive bar.
This time around, my bartender Vadim offered me a Passion Sour, which came in a mofo-goblet. It’s hard not to feel like a baller when you’re sipping from that, even if it’s 4pm on a weekday. I also recommend the Fabrika, their signature drink with spicy mango syrup.
If, in your cocktail journey, you discover the place where bartenders go to drink, put it at the top of your list. When bartender after bartender recommended Beatnik, I knew I had to visit. A pseudo-speakeasy (as in, it’s just hard to find because it’s inside a courtyard and you have to ring a doorbell to be let in), Beatnik doesn’t over-do the trope aesthetics of the 1920s. The bartenders forego leather aprons for classy button up shirts and ties, but they keep the showmanship and flair of serious mixologists.
I regret that the menu wasn’t in English, because everything the bartenders were serving up looked fabulous. Igor, my barman, persuaded me to try a Japanese Sour with matcha extract and banana liqueur for my first drink. Not something I would have picked off the menu myself, but after just one sidp it was easy to see why Beatnik was creating such a buzz. I caved to a second drink and had a Miss Beatnick, one of their signature drinks, which I would recommend. Or just trust your bartender. You’ll have no problems with that here.
Beatnik is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so plan your trip carefully to avoid disappointment.
When I dropped by Benedict Daily at three in the afternoon, it was dead quiet. But looking around at its dark brick plus wood paneled walls, the long bar under exposed light bulbs, and its accents of teacups and books softening its pseudo-industrial décor, I could imagine it gets lively at night, especially when the evenings turn colder. The cocktail list here is a mix of classics and creative twists. One of their drinks even uses blue cheese!
Halfway through my drink I realized that the Cranberry Sour I ordered was basically an upscale vodka cranberry – but it was legit classy, with none of that syrupy teeth-rotting cranberry juice they use at college bars. It was delicious and refreshing, the perfect midafternoon drink while trying to get some work done. My only regret is I didn’t have time to go back in the evening.
Farsch was the biggest unknown in my Kharkiv bar quest. In all my research, I couldn’t quite get its angle. Was it restaurant, bar, hookah lounge? Turns out, all of those things. But just because it is a jack-of-all-trades doesn’t mean it drops the ball anywhere. After chatting with Ilya for a few minutes about my preferences, he offered to make me his own signature drink, strong and sweet. With apricot brandy, vanilla rum, and walnut liqueur, it was exactly how you hoped cocktails tasted when you were imaging them as a child.
Farsch has three locations, all of which have the same bar menu. They are more of a restaurant than a bar during the summer, but in the winter they open up Farsch Place, a separate bar within their Smooth Diner location.
This is why chatting up the staff is important – at just barely a week old, Park Avenue hadn’t shown up in any of my research so I only heard about it when one of the guys at Farsch recommended it. Park Avenue has a modern, sleek aesthetic, blues and beiges and greens, without being cold. The bar occupies just a small slice of the restaurant, which I’m afraid will cause problems in the future when people get wind of the talented bartenders and come rushing in, thirsty.
Park Avenue was the last cocktail bar in Kharkiv that I visited, which meant my own creative limits were being tested. I gave the poor bartender such wide parameters I don’t know how he could pick up on any of my tastes. So when he suggested a twist on a Negroni, I hesitated. Negronis seem to be the darling with bartenders in Ukraine right now, but they’re not what I would usually order. Still, he talked me into it – and made me a Negroni I actually liked.
“What makes it different?” I asked.
Yep, that’ll do it.
Some Like It Hot is one of my favorite cafes in Kharkiv, running the menu gambit from breakfast to dessert with ease. The interior is chill with cool grays and warm yellows, and an outside seating area is perfect for people-watching and cocktail-sipping. While I wouldn’t call it a bar bar by any stretch, they do advertise a fun-looking ‘pre-party’ on Friday and Saturday nights. Their cocktail menu is a garden of fruity drinks, as well as clever takes on classics – not just a Bloody Mary, but a Bloody Prune. Not just a Negroni, but a Negroni Cuba.
Based off the waitress’s suggestion, I went with a Rum Nut, a cocktail with pear juice, amaretto syrup, peanut, and walnut. I’ve rarely had nut drinks and wasn’t sure how all the flavors were going to blend. But I was duly impressed and might start throwing in a nut cocktail when I get tired of my typical ginger and fruit sour drinks.
If you ask a local to list Kharkiv cocktail bars, Moskvich will be one of the first they rattle off. Nestled in a basement, Moskvich spices up its leather and wood interior with sunburst mirrors and psychedelic paraphernalia, an energetic current pumped through the bar with its club music. Moskvich feels a bit like it’s trying to be the place to ‘be seen,’ a veneer that was tempered when the friendly bartenders offered me a sample of a new potential appetizer.
Along with the classics, Moskvich’s homemade cocktails offer refreshing if familiar flavors. Pimm’s cup is listed next to Breakfast Tattoo, made with yoghurt liqueur. My Brichmula, with raspberry vodka, honey, and ginger, was a little too easy to drink, closer to lemonade that a craft cocktail. With shots called Boobz and 4/20, I definitely understood why people kept referring to it as a ‘party bar.’
Alright, Kharkiv experts – did I miss any? Let me know which Kharkiv cocktail bars I need to try next time!