Lodki in Bulgarian means boats. Now that we have clarified that fact, let’s get one thing straight: there is nothing maritime about Lodki. There is neither a river, nor a sea – no water at all, for that matter. There are no hulls, masts, rudders, boats or Viking sailing vessels.
What Lodki offers is a swerving concrete trench arched by a small concrete bridge, surrounded by birch, plum and chestnut trees, which in the distant past might have been used for small boats to make their rounds. Amongst them are scattered tables and chairs, flanked by two outdoors bars, the buzz of people darting about, pleasant music, and most importantly, cold beer and very affordable beverages.
The luxury element lacks altogether as the seating arrangements are basic – wooden tables with benches, plastic patio furniture, some of it rather unstable, and improvised seating along the trench or inside it. There are also two park benches next to the establishment, certainly requisitioned from the park itself, and evidently without the consent of the park ranger. Consequently, either go there early, at about 6pm, to get to one of the tables and secure more ‘adequate’ disposition, or alternatively you will be standing around and bouncing onto people. The latter is not that bad in itself, making it easier to meet and initiate casual conversation with anyone and everyone. Another solution is to carry a newspaper and hop in the trench or the green belts around it, place it under your posterior and Bob’s your uncle.
If seating is not exactly up to scratch, there is also the minor detail of harassment. In the humid and warm summer months, there are squadrons of starving and highly annoying mosquitoes, thus long sleeves or an insect repellent would be a sound idea. Food is not served, but you may call for a delivery which is the accepted norm – the actual address is Dragan Tsankov Boulevard, next to the Vesseloto Selo mehana and deliveries do get there, it has been tested.
Lodki is probably not the best place to go for a drink if you expect more than the bare modicum of comfort and class, but that said, if the drawbacks listed so far do not chafe, you are likely to enjoy the place.
The place itself is hidden in the lush greens of the Borissovata Gradina in the centre of Sofia, the oldest, one of the largest and best known parks in the city. The park itself is a poplar destination for walking, cycling, picnics, and is awash with cafés and pubs all around. Most of them, however, are located in visible and easily accessible areas, like park squares or around the Aryana Lake on Orlov Most or near the Vassil Levski National Stadium.
Lodki is less obvious. Your best option of finding it is to go to CSKA Sofia’s football ground, Bulgarska Armiya stadium, and while you face the main gate, turn right and then take a left through a small park, a walk that would require no more than five minutes. Alternatively, you may ask just about anyone as to the whereabouts of Lodki, even the iconic mounted police that patrol the park. The fact that Lodki is engulfed by the park contributes substantially to the atmosphere and vibe of the place – there is no sign or sound of traffic anywhere near, and no other establishments about – at least not for a hundred or so metres.
It offers that sense of seclusion in a forest in the middle of a big city, which combined with a throng of laid back and merry people makes the trip there really worthwhile. Especially in the hot summer months, the dense vegetation offers a thick cool shade, but that is also precisely why the venue is seasonal – in mid-autumn, it closes down and remains so until May.
You will not meet mutri or chalga fans in there, that is a promise. The clientèle consists of students, people of all walks of life, anything from early twenties to mid-forties. Football shirts and scarves are generally frowned upon as people there gather to be merry and not quarrel about sports. Families and mothers with prams are a common sight amongst tattooed rockers, ravers, architecture students, lawyers and whatnot. Pets are welcomed, there is also an abundance of place to leave your bicycle. The music is balanced to include most styles imaginable, apart from chalga, and is played at that comfortable volume that allows for scores of conversations to create a low-level din about the place.
Spirits range from three to five leva and a pint will set you back two leva.
Verdict: get some insect repellent and check it out.