Georgia's Fantastic Tavern: Where Europe Meets Asia

Painting of a man and selling fruit, vegetables and wine.

An online festival of Georgian writers from the Caucasus, with food and song, inspired by the café culture of the first democratic republic of 1918-21

This is an online festival. Booking is required for each session, and ticket holders will be sent links by email.


Please note: all timings are GMT

Thursday 25 February 18.00 – 19.10 Festival Launch featuring Katie Melua plus From the Blue Horn Poets to the Red Century: Nino Haratischvili in conversation with Maya Jaggi.

Thursday 25 February 19.20 – 20.40 Liberty’s Feast and Hangover: with Dato Turashvili and Aka Morchiladze

Saturday 27 February 14.00 – 14.45 In the Tbilisi Cafe Kitchen: with Luka Nachkebia

Saturday 27 February 15.15 – 16.35 Medea’s Daughters: Georgia’s pioneering women in the arts. With Nana Ekvtimishvili and Tamta Melashvili

Saturday 27 February 17.00 - 18.15 Mysteries of the Russian Empire: Boris Akunin in conversation with Boyd Tonkin

The Festival includes more events Tavern Encounters- on Friday 26 and Sunday 28 February. Please see below.

Georgia in the southern Caucasus, the mythological home of Medea and the Golden Fleece, is a crossroads where Europe meets Asia. It has a Black Sea coast, ancient vineyards and a rich literature with its own language and alphabet.

Following the Russian revolution of 1917, the Republic of Georgia experienced brief independence from imperial rule, fuelling a starburst of new writing and art. Its capital, Tbilisi, known as Tiflis before 1936, became a haven for exiles fleeing the collapsing Tsarist empire, including Doctor Zhivago author Boris Pasternak.

In the ‘Paris of the East’ during the 1910s and 20s, Tbilisi’s vibrant artists’ cafés, such as the Fantastic Tavern, Argonauts’ Boat, Kimerioni and Peacock’s Tail, became cosmopolitan crucibles of the Modernist avant-garde, nourished by Georgia's ancient culture of feasting and toasting. Symbolist poets and Dadaists mingled with Cubists and Futurists, inspired by the tavern paintings of self-taught artist Niko Pirosmani, Georgia’s Douanier Rousseau. Art of the period survives on former café walls, including Stepko’s Tavern by Lado Gudiashvili for the Kimerioni café.

But Europe’s first national experiment in democratic socialism was crushed after only 1,028 days when the Red Army invaded Georgia. The republic was annexed by the Soviet Union on 25 February 1921. Astonishing innovation continued in Georgian theatre and cinema. But Stalin’s great purges of the 1930s were a brutal coda. Many writers and artists were exiled or executed. Others committed suicide.

On the centenary of the Soviet invasion, and the 30th anniversary of the restoration of independence in 1991, the British Library in association with Maya Jaggi and Writers’ House of Georgia presents two days of online events as part of the four-day festival Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Where Europe Meets Asia. As an open house of literature Writers’ House in Tbilisi has honoured the memory of purged writers through its work since 2008.

In this festival, some of Georgia’s most celebrated novelists, playwrights and screenwriters reflect on the artistic legacy and inspiration of the moment of freedom a century ago, on the Soviet history to which they have been eyewitnesses, and on the cultural resurgence and challenges of the past 30 years.

In Association with Maya Jaggi and Writers’ House of Georgia.

For further information visit

Learn more about the British Library’s Georgian collections in this blog article written by curator Anna Chelidze.

The Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern Festival also includes these additional events on Friday 26 and Sunday 28 February. For these Tavern Encounters below no tickets are required. All events are FREE and streaming on FaceBook and YouTube. Visit for details

Please note: all timings are GMT

Friday 26 February 18.00 – 18.30 Birth of a Songwriter: Katie Melua in conversation with Maya Jaggi

Friday 26 February 18.30 – 19.30 Levity and the Limits of Satire in the New Georgia: Beka Adamashvili and Lasha Bugadze in conversation with Claire Armitstead

Sunday 28 February 14.00 - 14.45 Translating Georgia: From The Knight in the Panther Skin to Bestseller. Lyn Coffin and Tamar Japaridze in conversation with Maureen Freely.

Sunday 28 February 14.45 - 15.30 A Walk through Tbilisi. Archil Kikodze in conversation with Wendell Steavenson.

Sunday 28 February 16.00 -16.45 Strongmen and Masculinities in Today’s Georgia. Davit Gabunia in conversation with Mark Gevisser

Sunday 28 February 16.45 - 17.30 Polyphony and all that Jazz. Zurab Karumidze in conversation with Boyd Tonkin

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