Quick Cafe Review: Adriano Coffee

Adriano Coffee (at least four Bishkek locations – проспект Мира 29, Исанова 87, пр Чуй 127, and now just South of Beta 2) isn’t as popular as Sierra, probably because the prices are a bit higher (and there’s automatically added 15% gratuity).  But I still head there quite often, especially when I want to do work.  Why?

First, because the coffee is delicious.  They roast their own beans – you can actually watch them roasting their coffee on the second floor of the Karl Marx St. branch – and have a superior espresso machine. I’ve literally never had a bad cup of coffee. So yes, I will pay $2.20 for a great cappuccino.

According to E, they also have fairly good fare.  The offerings are fairly standard for Bishkek cafes – hamburgers, club sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts – but everything we’ve ordered was done well, presented nicely, and was not inordinately expensive (150-350 som for entrees)

Second, because they have glassed-off, completely closed smoking areas, which is more than I can say for most Bishkek cafes (or restaurants, or malls or…anywhere).

Third: because Adriano is less popular, their wifi works great.  At Sierra there are sometimes so many people that the wifi crawls like a small snail with gum stuck to it’s shell.  Websites crash.  Pictures fail to load. Not here.  Also, it’s quiet (not something I can say for Sierra’s ‘conference rooms’ where young Kyrgyz college kids will often play youtube videos or listen to music sans headphones.

And last: the space.  Especially with the new branch south of Beta 2 the cafes have comfortable chairs, tall exposed industrial ceilings, lots of nice woodwork, and a Portland-esqu vibe.  It’s a great atmosphere to work without interruption.

Little Practicalities:

Go for: The coffee! Desserts, light lunches/dinners/a break from walking around, dates, getting work done

English: Bilingual menus, some of the servers speak English

Hours: Three brances are open 8am-11pm, one 24 hours

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Bishkek Restaurant Review – Prego Cafe

IMG_0645Today was a bleak and dreary grey day, a damp early February afternoon with the overcast skies of late November.  So we cut our Saturday walk short and headed to our usual cafe across from Beta Stores.  Only problem is it’s under renovation and looks like it’s being turned into a Mexican joint (noooo….).  So we ventured down the street and ended up stopping for cappuccinos and cake at Prego Cafe, which we had never visited, but which is rated as one of the top ten restaurants in Bishkek.

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I’d give the joint full points for presentation – everything is nice, well-proportioned, subtle and suitable.  Our drinks came out not too long after we ordered and actually looked beautiful.  The server attempted to speak English, and seemed to genuinely listen to our orders. In mid-afternoon there were a dozen or so customers, but the high-backed seats and divided rooms ensured that the cafe was quiet for conversation.  No obnoxiously loud music, no tv’s (one of the few places in Bishkek that doesn’t have music videos playing at all hours of the day).

But the food (at least the one piece of walnut cake we shared) was blase – dry, and the sauce (frosting?) a little too sweet and definitely too runny.

Our coffee was done well (with espresso-infused foam), but nothing really special and not as strong as I like.  A bit expensive, but it seems like we paid for atmosphere and presentation. latte cafe prego

Quite honestly, the Giraffe Coffee stands make the best espresso drinks (only to go, but for 90-110 som), and Adriano Coffee (next to БГУ on Manas, just South of Beta Stores 1, and half a block South of Beta 2) has a better espresso bar (along with okay Kyrgyz interpretations of Western desserts and a decent soup/salad/burger menu) with mid-priced drinks.

Coffee and Prego cafe is still fine, and the quiet settings make it a good local for an afternoon chat.  The (extensive, slightly overpriced) Russian/Italian lunch and dinner menu looked interesting, so it still might be a good place to go for a leisurely meal, date night, or anytime you want to dine in a calmer, quieter atmosphere and actually have a conversation over dinner.

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Can I Use a Credit Card in Bishkek?

Again, yes and no. Bishkek is primarily a cash-based society, and many shops and stores don’t have credit card machines. Those that do usually only take Visa (No MasterCard, UnionPay, or anything else) Places where you can reliably use a credit or debit card include:

  • Most shops inside a mall (Vefa Center, Bishkek Park, Beta 2)
  • Most large chain grocery stores (Beta Stores, Plus Market, Narodnie)
  • Most chain clothing stores (Mango, Mavi Jeans, Kotton, MixX, Colin’s, etc…)
  • Most cafes, western restaurants, bars and clubs (rule of thumb – if they have free wifi for customers, or their own instagram or twitter account, then they probably also take credit cards)
  • Airline offices and travel agencies

And that’s it.  Everywhere else you go – bring cash (preferably in denominations of 200 som or less). Also, keep in mind that some credit or debit cards won’t reliably work in shops that take credit cards.  Our (Kyrgyz) Demir Bank Debit card, for example, does not work in Plus Market (but it does work at Narodnie and Beta Stores…)

Which brings us to the next question – where can one withdraw money in Bishkek?

Pretty much everywhere, as long as you have a Visa.  Demir bank has reliable service and good exchange rates, but most banks are probably OK and have English option on the ATMs (“Bankomat” in Russian).  Most Demir locations allow you to withdraw som or USD and convert from USD or Euro to Som.  There is, however, about $330 (or $340?) limit on how much in USD you can withdraw at one time. This seems to vary a bit by bank/ATM through – so just plan ahead. Keep in mind that ATMs also seem to frequently run out of USD at the beginning of the month.  If you want dollars, try to withdraw before people get their monthly paychecks, or just go to the bank (but don’t forget your passport).

If you have UnionPay, then you can take out money at Halyk Bank, PCK Bank, Росинбанк, and Commercial Bank of Kyryzstan/Коммерческий банк КЫРГЫЗСТАН (which I’ve found to be the most reliable; a list of ATM locations here).

If you have Master Card….uh… supposedly the Kazkommert Bank/KazKom is the only bank that takes MasterCard.  Look here for a list of locations, but I can’t promise all of them will work.  Your better bet is getting a Visa before you travel.

If you have cash and just want to exchange money, there are a number of exchange offices along Sovietskaya between Chuy and Gorkovo, and on Manas between Chuy and Moscovskaya, as well as an office in Beta 1 on Chuy and in Vefa Center.  It’s much easier to change from USD, though a number of places will also take Euro, Kazakh Tenge and Russian Rubles.  Good luck if you have anything else. Also, the exchange rates for other currencies will be terrible.

And on a random note, according to the Commercial Bank of Kyrgyzstan website, citizens of Japan can enter Kyrgyzstan visa-free for…forever? or, as states, “for an unlimited term”. Hmm…

One Street – Bishkek

All photos taken along Gorkoy street in Bishkek where it cuts across the center of the city (but not the city center) between Sovietskaya in the East and Manas Ave in the West.
A little explanation: my afternoon started at CAVE coffee, which (as mentioned before) is one of the better-decorated cafes in Bishkek, if also over-priced. When I was there the other people sitting in the cafe were two young Chinese businessmen, WTO Kyrgyz girls (one in a headscarf, one in rhinestones jeans), and a couple of Russian-Kyrgyz friends dressed in speak new fashions. Down the street is a fresh beer and beer-snacks place, serving up ten beers on tap (bought by the liter along with fresh smoked cheese and salty smoked fish. Further down the street is a Turkish shopping Center (Vefa) and a small German market. Then the street… Is pretty much forgotten. A smattering of hotels and stores (including not a few with ridiculous American-inspired names) and a sidewalk that probably hasn’t been fixed since Soviet times before the street reaches Manas, where several of the universities are located.

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