Eccentric? Craving for something bizarre and unorthodox? Hambara could be your joint. With a dubious past, Hambara has a reputation that enables it to draw a special clientèle and create a unique atmosphere. Artists, the intelligentsia, poets, sculptors and musicians, regular lads and lasses, as well as expats and foreigners, all frequent it. If you took one look at the place, however, you wouldn't touch it with a six-foot pole. The place, and its approach – resembles a scene from Fallujah.
The pub has no signs and no known actual address (at least we couldn't figure it out). It opened as a pub in the 1990s but in the beginning you would only be allowed in if you were friendly with one of the regulars or the owner himself. Nowadays, the place is not so secretive, although it is just as cryptic. The easiest way to find it is to take Sixth September Street off Graf Ignatiev at Sedmochislenitsi Church and walk towards an area known as the Malkite Pet Kyuosheta. About 20m off Graf Ignatiev, on the right, is a green restaurant, on the left side of which is a sign reading Kraft. Walk through the dilapidated iron gate into a yard. You will see something resembling a wooded shed that was apparently bombed in a Nato air raid. In that shed is an old wooden door. Knock on it and be persistent. Eventually someone will open up and grant you access to the Hambara (the Barn).
Prepare for a dark crypt on two levels, embellished with paintings and medieval armour, in addition to other attributes which you must be well intoxicated to interpret coherently. There is no electricity – the entire place, including the bathrooms, is lit by dozens of candles. There is a second tier with tables and benches across from the bar, and barn-line compartments on the ground floor with makeshift tables and stools for costumers. A large bar is covered in candles, likewise the piano and stairs leading up to the second tier. Did I mention the candles?
Often someone will play on the piano (you may sit at the piano and entertain customers if you want) while someone else will play the violin or another instrument. People just lounge around, listening to music and chatting. Bearing in mind the set-up, it's a shock when you find yourself surrounded by a segment of Sofia society considered upper-middle class.
Music is anything from Sting, Pink Floyd, U2 and Edith Piaf, through to piano and violin music played live but at low levels, allowing for conversation. Booze is slightly on the steep side and there is no draught beer, only the .330 Shoumensko type that will set you back three leva, while spirits cost between four and six leva. In short, the atmosphere is unique and the people are a refreshing mix. Hambara is a pub you will either love at first sight, or never venture into again. Non-smokers, be warned – the ventilation system (if it exists) is completely ineffective.
The Sofia Echo verdict – this place is a definite must. Take a couple of friends on your first visit to soften the culture shock. Alternatively, if you are alone, have a couple of quick ones for the buzz before you venture in. Then just immerse yourself in the weird experience.