A minimalist wine bar has opened its door under the historic Besarabsky Market in Kiev.

By Balthazar Malevolent


Marked by a discreet triangular sign above an inconspicuous metal entrance, the Balthazar wine bar in Kiev, Ukraine was conceived by local architecture studio Rina Lovko as a sublime chic dungeon that makes the most of its subterranean position in the basement of Besarabsky Market, an elegant, historic indoor bourse in the city center. Working closely with the art director of the bar, the Studio built an intensely immersive experience by filtering through a prism of mid-century nostalgia and contemporary finesse the century-old industrial history of the building. The outcome is a modern bar merging the age-old wine cellar's eerie ambiance with the allure of an exclusive speakeasy.

Balthazar wine bar in Kiev.

Opened in 1912, Besarabka was the first roofed market in Kiev and an architectural example of early modernism, as the historic bourse is locally referred to, with the grandiose architecture of the building underpinning its functionality. For example, the two towers that adorned the central façade served as water storage and compressor units while the basement housed a powerful underground refrigeration plant. The factory, which at the time was considered a technical breakthrough, was demounted only a few years earlier, thereby freeing Balthazar's basement to move in.

The unique premises of the bar in the basement of a century-old building posed the design team with both architectural and bureaucratic challenges, and stretched the renovation process to one year and a half. From the height of the arched construction, which required a half-meter lowering of the floor level — a laborious process of digging tons of soil and other materials at night so as not to interfere with the regular daily operations of the market — to the requirements to waterproof the brick walls and create adequate ventilation through the main entrance, the design team has cleverly resolved a number of problems.

Balthazar wine bar in Kiev.

The digging processes brought to the surface part of the foundation of the building that the design team cleverly transformed into a banquet seating continuing through the length of the bar, a long space that also includes a high seating area, complete with a cozy bar counter, intimate wall-mounted tables, and a lounge furnished with mid-century vintage armchairs and sofas restored by the designers.

The overall aesthetic of the bar combines the gritty, industrial heritage of the building with a sensitivity of mid-century sophistication, underpinned by an earthy color palette of browns and greens, and mellowed by an intimate lighting design that favors soft accents of warm illumination by Ukrainian designer Vasily Grublyak's custom design lamps.

Exposed brickwork, left intact or painted olive-green, cement floor tiles and metal furnishings, including the formidable entrance door that has been deliberately rusted and graffitied, are complemented by the use of wood from old wine barrels for entrance steps and a traditional table, while glazed, green-tinted Soviet tiles on the bar counter, walnut veneer covering the tabletops and sumptuous leather and velvet upholstery add a sense of refinement and sophistication. In the end, it is these fine-tuned juxtapositions of materials and textures that encapsulate the seductive combination of poised sophistication and brooding mystery in the bar.

Try to imagine how Yohji Yamamoto or Rick Owens designed restaurants could look like. Share your ideas with us. Possible, we are going to see one of the above by the end of the next year.

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