Sunday, February 5, 2012

Little London

Finally. Among Old Town's impossible number of strip clubs, amber shops, liquor stores, and shoe stores selling only black shoes, emerges a used English-language bookstore.

Slothrop's at Müürivahe 19 forms the lower end of what some are calling Little London (Drink Bar & Grill at Väike Karja 8 demarcating the upper bound), and though two venues perhaps do not London make, it's at least a start.

Of all Estonia's success since independence, I find it hard to count the Old Town among it. Despite its beautiful architecture, it's still a little depressing that it hasn't developed too much beyond being a home for Tallinn's red light district.

(Not that strippers are bad. On my last trip to a strip club I learned the girls are from Belarus and the Ukraine and live in dorm rooms above the club. Some are into real self-improvement, too. “My sister learned Estonian, earned enough money stripping to pay her way through Estonian Business School, and now works in banking,” a young Belarussian told me. I asked what grand plans she herself might have. “Oh,” she demurred, “my sister is the smart one.”)

It’s true that much of Old Town has been nicely refurbished – its architecture is stunning and it’s a great gingerbread destination for seasonal glögg drinkers – but it seems to lack a soul. Its progress seems to have halted before a community was formed.

So perhaps Little London is worthy of emulation: chop up the Old Town into smaller, manageable, intimate units.

On my last trip to Little London I picked up a Charles Portis novel at Slothrop's (thanks for stocking more than Palahniuk), took a seat at Drink Bar to say goodbye to Anchor Liberty Ale (thanks for stocking more than Saku), and started to have Disneyesque fantasies about what I’d do as the Real Estate Developer With the Heart of Gold who leads Old Town to prosperity.

I’d give a block over to musical instrument shops under the direction of the Nunne Street shop selling sheet music (Noodid?), give the art galleries to yellow-doored Temnikova & Kasela, let Vivian Vau rule a clothing district, and put the cafes under the supervision of the Black Poodle and Kehrwieder folks. I’d add an obligatory Little Italy and Little India. And we could surely tolerate a Little Reeperbahn (though let it be little).

Yes, I know, maybe the country's still not affluent enough to support the kind of Old Town we'd all like. So I've taken to blindfolding myself while I negotiate the Bermuda Triangle of Viru Street until I reach Müürivahe. I hang a left after McDonald’s, wave at the girls in the window of the joint I’ve renamed Stringfellows, and then, as the Brits say, Robert is your father’s brother.