If you ask travelers with an ear on techno and club culture, you might hear that Tbilisi, Georgia is the next Berlin. After all, the city has a subversive, free scene that grew out of rebellious post-Soviet days. But if you ask a local—in this case, gallerist and curator Natia Bukia—you’ll learn quickly that Tbilisi is much more than a destination for the deep house and dark techno (though you’ll certainly find that). The city offers a rich food culture, striking architecture, and a vibrant art and fashion scene.
Bukia started Project ArtBeat and Moving Gallery—a shipping container that serves as a mobile art space—with two friends almost four years ago. The galleries feature contemporary Georgian artists of all generations at their brick-and-mortar locations as well as at international art fairs and in an online gallery. When she’s not traveling for the galleries or with her three young children, Bukia is exploring the local art scene, feasting on Georgia’s traditional cheese pies and meat dumplings, and lounging in Tbilisi’s Wes Anderson-esque Stamba Hotel. Here are Bukia’s key recommendations for her hometown.
Where do you live in the city? What’s your favorite neighborhood to walk around in?
I live in Sololaki, the old town of Tbilisi and I simply adore it. It is really the best neighborhood. I love to walk around the fascinating architecture, beautiful yards and home entrances. I am very glad that our permanent gallery space is also in the same neighborhood.
Where is your favorite place to find unique household items?
You find the flea market and old furniture shops around Dry Bridge and Tsinamdzgvrishvili Street across the bridge.
Where do you go in Tbilisi to shop for key pieces or for something for a special occasion?
In Tbilisi, I usually buy from local designers at their ateliers. My sister, Lako Bukia, is a designer and I very often wear her clothing, especially to exhibition openings. Another of my favorites is George Keburia.
What are Georgia’s signature dishes, and where is the best place to try them?
It depends on which part of Georgia you’re in, but the most famous ones I guess are Khinkali (meat dumplings) and Khachapuri (cheese pie), especially Adjarian Khachapuri, which is in the shape of a boat. The best place to eat Khinkali is Sofia Melnikova’s Fantastic Douqan, which serves a special mountain type of Khinkali— it also has a beautiful yard. For all types of Khachapuri, I would recommend the restaurant at the newly opened Stamba Hotel—a great place for guests to stay with fascinating design and lush greenery.
Where would you take a visitor to eat out and why?
I would definitely take a visitor to Keto and Kote for its beautiful setting and great Georgian food.
What’s your ideal night out?
I would go drink wine at 8000 Vintages, the best wine shop and bar in Georgia, then continue to Fabrika—a hostel and multifunctional space—for more drinks and a great lively vibe. Then I’d end up at Drama Bar, which is good for lighter music and dancing. If I want to continue until dawn, I would got to the more hardcore Bassiani night club—which is often compared to Berlin’s famous Berghain night club—but this hasn’t happened too often since I’ve had kids. Café Gallery is another good one—it’s one of the oldest spots in town and still a local favorite.
Where do you go for a good cocktail and what do you order?
For cocktails, Rooms Hotel bar is the best place in town. They serve great Whiskey Sours.
Do you have a favorite spa or bath house?
Where do you go when you want to get away from the bustle of the city for a weekend?
Kazbegi is still my favorite getaway. It’s around a 3 hour drive and has the beautiful Rooms Hotel with stunning views of Mount Kazbek and the Gergeti Church.
What’s one thing or experience that you can only find in Tbilisi?
Tbilisi is very special because of its diversity. You can find a synagogue, a Mosque, an Armenian church and a Georgian Orthodox church on one street. This is the way the whole city is, and I think the hospitality of its people is the most special thing about Tbilisi and Georgia in general. Hosting is what we really enjoy the most.