Discover the secret Ostannya Barykada restaurant in Kyiv
When I tried to drop a pin on my map to locate the Ostannya Barykada Restaurant in Kyiv, the map seemed wonky. The pin for the restaurant (English, “Last Barricade”) seemed to be in the middle of the large concrete Independence “Maidan” Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. That couldn’t be right. I asked a Ukrainian companion who verified the map was correct. I knew I had to retrace my steps on my own to this historic, “secret” gem of a restaurant, but how?
When our group left, I eyeballed the dingy underground passage and freight doors that slammed behind us (you go in one way and out another). I sized up the glass doors to the Globus Mall shopping area we had originally entered underneath Maidan Square. I took a photo of the bank at the top of the stairs down at Maidan Square. And I embedded them in my memory so I could find my way back to the hidden Ostannya Barykada restaurant.
Why was I so intent to get back to the secret Last Barricade restaurant in Kyiv? Ostannya Barykada is not just a restaurant with historic décor and astounding, creative, all-Ukrainian food and drink. It’s more of an artful museum of a now-free (and very proud) people that represents the history of modern Ukrainian revolutions – one that also happens to serve Ukrainian food and drink exclusively. Think of it as a gastronomic space in a museum that gives a huge bear hug to the essence of Ukraine.
Do not even think about leaving Kyiv without going.
Why is Ostannya Barykada Restaurant so secret?
Of course, the first question is, why would a restaurant want to be “secret?” Because it’s a great marketing gimmick. Seriously, though, for locals, the restaurant may be hidden in plain sight, but it’s not so hard to find … if you know. For others? Well, the address on Maidan Nezalezhnosti won’t help a lick since that’s just the main above-ground street and plaza. The Last Barricade restaurant in Kyiv (also known as Kiev), which opened in October 2016, used to require a password to get in which was easy enough to get but required one extra hurdle for visitors, let alone foreign ones. Unfortunately, the little “gimmick” seems to have been axed as a requirement to get in. But it if hasn’t, I’ve got you covered — pssst, the password along with precise directions to get to the entrance are at the end of this post.
Once in the restaurant, you are in a dimly lit entry area with a coat check (free), and you are facing a steel wall (representing the Iron Curtain) hung with 72 eerily illuminated silver hands representing the 72 years Ukraine was under the rule of the Soviet Union/Russia. Here, you push open the secret door that is part of the wall of hands – they call it “destroying the wall” when you push it since it represents the memory of repression and then of its destruction.
Entering the restaurant
You then truly enter the restaurant. The first dining room looks normal enough: chairs and tables lined up in basic restaurant style but facing a number of open kitchen and beverage prep areas. There is also a small stage since the secret Last Barricade restaurant has music, readings and shows nearly every night. The room is bright since there are windows facing out. But wait, there’s more, and it gets even better:
At the far end there is a bar with a row of seats in front of it. Have a seat. Have a chat with the friendly bartender. From here, you can get into the “secret” inner chambers. How? The row of bar seats will automatically roll through a wall of hanging beads (any steel door there will magically open of course), and you are now in the back two dining rooms, which we highly recommend (our short video at the end of this post demonstrates the rolling seats and shows the “secret room”).
Onward to the “secret” back dining rooms
The first dining room of the two is like a cozy library called “Shtab,” which means “headquarters” in Ukrainian. It could be a secret meeting room in the home of Kyiv intelligentsia. Chairs and a small table are set up for a tête-à-tête in front of a (candle-lit) fireplace, thick carpets cushion the floors, plants sit on side tables, cozy couches have an assortment of cushions, wood paneling adds warmth. And a short, curved stairway with intricate wrought-iron railings spirals upward to the last space. Head on up….
Now you are in the last dining room. This is the one you see from the above Maidan plaza when you look down through the glass at the base of the historic Lach Gates (see first photo at top). This stone monument was re-created in 2001 and represents the old city fortifications that withstood the siege of Kyiv in 1240. This room is brighter from the sunlight from above, and you nestle at mostly tables for two surrounding the old stone gate. Chairs are an assortment of styles that add a little attitude and charm, with some in brocade patterns with rolled arms looking as if they came from your grandma’s house.
Museum with food
What is on the walls in all three spaces, however, truly represents the restaurant and its goals of being both “100% Ukrainian” and a museum that is born of three modern Ukrainian revolutions: the 1989 Student Revolution, the 2004-05 Orange Revolution, and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. As the restaurant says, “Ostannya Barykada is … a new platform for the implementation of social and cultural ideas, brainstorming, development and promotion of modern values. It is our ‘front line’ for civil society to discuss long-term strategy for the country.”
In the front dining room for example on a wall near the corner kitchen are artifacts from the 2014 revolution, including the helmet worn by Ukrainian media hero Yuri Zakletsky as well as photos. In the second room, the “secret room,” hangs a copy of the Declaration of Independence (only one of four we were told). Also, in a corner is the dress worn by the Ukrainian singer Ruslana who was the country’s first singer to win the Eurovision Song Contest – seems like an odd addition but it again says something about the pride of the Ukrainian people. There are many more artifacts, not to mention Last Barricade restaurant Kyiv’s location at the spot of the country’s most recent revolution and old gates. “It’s the concept of the revolution,” my tour guide hostess Tanya said.
“Ostannya Barykada is a place for open-minded people who are ready to protect their values, take responsibilities and change their country,… This is our fortress, a frontline where society is able to discuss long-term strategies of the country policy and work on the mistakes…. We want to preserve that spirit of sympathy, altruism, social alertness and uprising which helped to create Ukrainian Revolutions of the last three decades.” — from the restaurant menu.
What about the food at this museum?
After all the work put into the décor and history can the cuisine live up to that hype? Yes, a resounding yes. The food is nothing short of marvelous. Staring at the lengthy menu (in Ukrainian and English) it was difficult to choose from so many specialties, from different types of Salo (Ukrainian white pork fat) to Ukrainian oysters to a long list of Ukrainian cheeses (including a caramel cheese made on site), salads, soups, sandwiches, meats, mains… We sat and stared at the menu, wishing we could order it all. You can get tasting plates and boards of cheeses and meats, which are wonderful. Looking for a lighter lunch, I choose a salad of roasted vegetables and Ukrainian feta, and chicken noodle soup with chicken hearts. My companions and I shared a tasting board of cheeses including a pecorino, cheddar, the house-made caramel, something called Buch (soft cheese) and Kozatskyi.
And to drink? Also all Ukrainian (ok, Tanya admits, there are a couple of non-Ukrainian wines to balance the list). I had already learned in prior days that Ukraine knows how to make hot brewed beverages from fruits and spices so I opted for a “tea” made with sea buckthorn and ginger. The menu takes some sorting out with all the teas, coffees, juices and other beverages.
With drink in hand, you’ll now want to raise your own toast.
In Ukraine, you will say “BUDMO!”
…which means “cheers” but be careful. If you say it too loud, everybody will yell back the requisite, “HEY!” and you’ll start your own (drinking) revolution.
Directions to the secret Ostannya Barykada Restaurant in Kyiv
Here’s why it is hidden in plain sight. If you are walking near St. Michael’s Monument (Michael is the archangel of Kyiv) on the historic Lach (Lyadsky) Gate, you can look through the glass at its base right into the restaurant (see photo, below). Now, the treasure hunt begins.
Although there are likely multiple ways to get there, here is one simple one:
- Exit the square and across the main Maidan Nezalezhnosti street toward Kostolna Street.
- There, at the corner are stairs (see photo, below) that head underground to the mall. Go down. (When we were there, the stairs were right in front of a bank so look for that.)
- Once underground, in a dimly lit passage, you will see on your left, big glass doors into the Globus Mall (just past the freight exit doors marked OB, below).
- Go on into the mall. Head to your left and curve to your right to an elevator at the food court. Step inside.
- Press the gray button marked with OB. That takes you up to the restaurant you saw through the glass.
- Step out into the shop, which looks just like a little specialty store. Almost there. Now head to the back and to the right through to the restaurant. (If they are going to ask for the secret password, it will be in the shop. See password, below. Or scan the QR code on the wall for it.)
- You made it! (Hostesses will gladly give tours so be sure to ask if one is not offered.)