Friday, 30 May 2008

Up in arms over Vegetka

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while (in fact adraft version of this is about a month old). There is a very special place in the centre of Bratislava at Laurinska. Is is called Vegetka and everyday at lunch time you will see a long queue outside.

Tourists stop in surprise trying to figure out what everyone is waiting for (Let's Go 2002 readers know). For years I had walked by feeling sorry for the people in the line - I thought they couldn't afford or were to cheap to go for one of the 119,- Sk lunch menus at various central restaurants.
Boy was I wrong... One day Daniel (who blogged about Vegetka in Slovak recently) convinced me to come along and since then I eat my lunch there as often as I can, usually at least three times a week.

Vegetka is like a canteen. While in the line you have to look at the menu posted in Slovak (and English) a few times along the walls. After waiting in line for 10-15 minutes you order at a cash register. The blond lady at the cash register (Majka) is extremely efficient and doesn't suffer slow people gladly. When I manage to rattle off my order really fast I see a little approving smile. She hands you a receipt which you then hand in to the two Anickas at the window. Hope that they are having a good day since otherwise the main Anicka occasionally hurls mild abuse, especially at regulars.

20 different meals, freshly cooked, in the very centre and at a reasonable price. A loyal crowd of office people (including local Rolex-wearing lawyers and bankers on days when they don't send their secretaries to bring in a Vegetka lunch), students, pensioners, artists, intellectuals come daily to eat delicacies like (quoting from today's menu): Springs roll with sauce piquant and salad, Mushroom goulash with sauekraut and dumpling, Spinach dumplings with cheese and sahmpignons, salad... There was a lot more of course.

Anyway, our development-friendly city leadership (led by Draco Malfoy look-alike Andrej Durkovsky) decided there was better use for this prime space after decades of dietary dining (in Vegetka and the adjacent Dietka with dietary meals) when the lease ends for the owner of Vegetka. To justify an end to the popular restaurant the city played along with a clever ploy of the majority owner of the Motesicky Palace building: CDC "voted" to increase payments in the reconstruction fund from all owners of spaces in the building to the point where the city would have to pay SKK 900,000 (USD 45,000) per month (!) for the Vegetka space. The city then said it will give preference to a tenant who will pay this absurd sum on its behalf. Conveniently, CDC, is willing to do that - no surprise since as a majority owner it can decide on the use of the money in this fund. Lest you should be confused, CDC became a majority owner in the building not through buying at market rates but through series of purchases at sub-market rates indirectly (?) assisted by the city.

Slovaks in general and Bratislavians are complacent and rarely rise up in protest. The city has ruined our sky like by allowing construction of a skyscraper by the New Bridge, sold off various attractive pieces of real estate under questionable conditions but no one has done much.

But now that the bullying mayor figuratively speaking tried to take our lunch (saying the reason was the qeueing people didn't look good in front of tourists) there was an outcry and a petition can be signed online and in person in front of the restaurant. Newspapers are up in arms (no surprise since the journalists eat with us too). There was a band concert to support the restaurant and several well known persons spoke up publicly.

Whether this will save the restaurant from a money-hungry bunch with no respect for anything but their own account balance is questionable but perhaps it will teach us to take initiative earlier next time someone tries to rob us of something as dear.