We had heard some buzz about a secret masonic restaurant in Lviv, Ukraine. So one evening we set off on a mission to find it. It would be no easy task but we were up for the challenge.
We walked up and down a street several times looking for a restaurant named Dim Legend. We didn’t see a sign for the business anywhere. So finally we looked up the address on our phone. This brought us to a door that upon opening led us to a stairway. Climbing up the somewhat crooked stairs and ducking at certain points as to not hit my head on the low hanging staircase above us, we found ourselves with a choice of entering a number of different oddly decorated rooms, each space perhaps only slightly larger than an average sized bedroom.
One room appeared to be a full-on library with people dining amongst volumes of books. But we chose a room full of clocks and other time-oriented kitsch decorations on the simple fact there was a bar located in that room. The table we sat at was some sort of wooden clock gear. The strange melodies of a Frank Zappa album played in the background. Seemingly an odd choice for a Ukrainian restaurant but it seemed fitting here.
A server came over to take our order. She was a little person. In fact, we noticed all of the servers here were. Between the décor, music, and servers, it felt like we were on some sort of weird acid trip. The harsh language barrier added to already lost and confusing feeling of simply sitting here, but we managed to relay our beer orders. Oddly enough, the beer was from a brewery called “Rebel” which we felt a little uneasy ordering since it is the rebels that Ukraine is currently in a conflict with several hundred miles east of here. Perhaps it was a mistake to order it because both the dark and blonde varieties of the beer weren’t very good and had rotten egg aroma to them. Was this some sort of sick joke to play on “Rebel” supporters? Or perhaps it was just a little butyric acid that snuck its way into the party caused by dirty conditions. Hmm?
Either way we managed to choke down our eggy beers in this delightfully odd establishment. This is probably the strangest restaurant we’d ever been to in our lives. But despite all the oddities in this peculiar eatery, there would be an even stranger restaurant to come. We were here simply to obtain a 90%-off discount card to the masonic restaurant. We ha been tipped off that the secret masonic restaurant has an insanely ridiculous mark-up on their prices, so much so that it is sometimes known as and referred to by name as “The Most Expensive Galacian Restaurant“. Here at Dim Legend we were able to get what is known as the “Lviv Card” from our server so that we would not have to pay the astronomical prices once we (hopefully) located the restaurant.
A few blocks down the road near the town hall in the city center we now were looking for the secret Masonic restaurant and searched for an unmarked door. This time we had at least expected the door to be without signage and easily located the address. We walked down the barren interior corridor until we got to a big wooden door. This has to be it.
We knocked and were abruptly brought in by a big guy with an assault rifle! WTF!? He shouted something to us in Ukrainian. We were genuinely scared and confused. He finally muttered in English “Russians?” I replied “No, no Russians.” He gave us a stern look and motioned for us to go downstairs into the basement.
We were nearly ready to run out the way we came in but we instead followed his instructions and went downstairs. The stairway opened up into a broad basement area with tables. Friendly servers approached us with menus and a smile. Thankfully the entrance shenanigans were all just a little shtick for this Ukrainian military themed restaurant, named Kryjivka, we’d wandered into. Phew!
So we ordered some beers (fortunately not Rebel) and were encouraged to take shots of honey vodka. We obliged and were happy we did. There were unloaded antique rifles on the walls, military clothing hanging up, and other paraphernalia abounded.
This restaurant was even equipped with proper bunkers.
Here we were, in this country of conflict, deep in some military bunker, drinking beer and taking shots of vodka. It was a bit surreal. This was now the strangest restaurant we’d been to in our lives. But it actually wasn’t the secret masonic we were looking for. This was just a happy accident in entering the wrong door. It was getting late and with all the booze we’d been consuming, we desperately needed to get some food in our bellies. We got a tip from one of the servers that the masonic restaurant we were looking for was actually upstairs.
So we ventured out of the basement bunker back onto ground level where we noticed the sign of the masonry pointing upstairs. Up to the second floor we went and there were just a few plain looking apartment doors that certainly weren’t for a restaurant. Then again, this was a secret masonic restaurant, so perhaps they were. Only one of three apartment doors had a number on it – number 8.
Starving by this point, we took our chances and cautiously rang the doorbell. A middle-aged scruffy looking man opened the door and it was, in fact, just an apartment. We were so embarrassed. He said something to us in Ukrainian and I just muttered “Masonic Restaurant?” He cocked one eyebrow up and gave us a confused look. I asked again in very slow, carefully annunciated English “Do you know Masonic Restaurant?” Surely we weren’t the first people to mistakenly knock on his door looking for this place.
He motioned for us to come inside and then shut the apartment door. We felt really uncomfortable in the cluttered and cramped apartment with this strange man. A teakettle was on the stove and he offered us coffee or tea. We politely declined and asked again “Ma-son-ic Rest-au-rant?” He then motioned to his bedroom door. Oh, hell no! We were about to leave but then he opened his bedroom door, which wasn’t a bedroom at all. It was, in fact, the entrance to the apparently super-secret masonic restaurant. Fooled again. Well done.
It was so unexpected walking through that unkempt apartment and entering a grand fine dining restaurant with beautifully polished wood beams throughout. It was actually rather swanky. Soft piano music contributed to the posh ambiance. Yet the swankiness didn’t detract from the weirdness. The full sized antique car in the corner area easily distracted us. How on earth did that get there? Meanwhile framed portraits of grizzled freemasons from a bygone era provided gazing stares as we attempted to get situated at our candlelit table.
The menu was delivered to our table and we were pleasantly surprised to receive one that included English translations, which we’ve found to be rare here. I was again pleasantly surprised to find a beer list that included a selection of about a dozen beers from a Belgian brewery I’d discovered a month earlier while in Brussels – Brasserie de la Senne. Interestingly, these Belgian imports were less expensive here then when ordered in their home country. And here they were poured into crystal wine glasses! The dinner menu had a great variety to choose, from Ukrainian specialties to more traditional dishes. As expected the prices were about ten times higher than normal, so we were grateful to have our Lviv Card, providing us the 90% discount. Selections included everything from goose dinners to fine steaks, but we were a bit boring with our orders since we’d previously been pointing blindly at unreadable menus and accepting whatever items were brought to our table. So with a translated menu, we opted for a pork chop with a fig sauce and chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese, both absolutely delicious.
The bill eventually came and our meals and beers came out to an astronomic 2,350 hryvnia (about $180 USD at current exchange rates). With Lviv Card discount applied we were at a much more reasonable 135 hryvnia ($18). Much better!
After the many different beers of the evening, a trip to the restroom was inevitable. Am not sure why I would I have expected the bathroom to be normal here. Perhaps the lovely dinner had momentarily thrown me off from the bizarreness of this place. The toilet was literally positioned in an actual throne.
Nice touch. Ok, now this was the strangest restaurant in the world.
If you go:
Information on the Lviv Tourist Card can be found here.
Dim Legend contact info can be found here.
Kryjivka contact info can be found here.
The Masonic Restaurant (aka The Most Expensive Galacian Restaurant) can be found…
I’ve already said to much. You’re on your own. 😉
Great story! Made me belly laugh out loud! You guys are ballsy…and it paid off. Miss you both and wish I could’ve witnessed this debacle in person.
And Happy Birthday to Heather!!!!
Hi there! I just found your post and love what you guys are doing! Food and travel is where it’s at! I have your page a like and looking forward to reading more from your travels 🙂
Absolutely amazing story!! You didnt leave any questions I had unanswered! Great writing and I must say, Only the Widmers would have kept going. I would have given up at the guy screaming at me! Love! Keep on keeping on Widmers!
John Widmer says
Thanks Michelle! The guy screaming at us was so big & burley with his rifle in hand and had the most serious look on his face. We truly didn’t know what was going on. But am glad that we did keep on!