Having been part of the former Soviet Union for decades, Estonia, independent since 1991, is now a freshly minted member of the European Union. So it would be tempting to assume that this Baltic nation suffers from an identity crisis. In the capital city of Tallinn, however, Russia meets Scandinavia—and the two hit it off famously. True, there is still a dreary surplus of brutal Stalinist architecture. But in the Old Town—home to some of the most beautiful medieval architecture in Europe—the cobbled streets are lined with sleek bistros, cafés filled with the young and ambitious, and one sensational boutique hotel.
The Three Sisters Hotel is inside three 14th-century buildings, with their original wooden staircases and beamed ceilings intact. Rooms have been completely modernized: flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and bathrooms with slate floors and gleaming chrome fixtures. The efficient staff and seductive cellar bar (where breakfast is served until 6 p.m.) are a sure sign the hotel has adopted the new Balkan attitude: better food, better service, better style.
Stereo, which opened late last year, has caught the spirit, too. It's the hottest café and lounge in town. White-hot, in fact—white seats, white tables, and glass walls etched with the names (in white, of course) of classic cocktails. Stereo feels more like the departure lounge of an impossibly chic airline than a popular business-lunch spot. When it switches over to a laid-back lounge with nightly DJs, the decor makes perfect sense.
At Kohvik Moskva, a.k.a. Café Moscow, the Russian influence holds sway, now fashionably reinterpreted in this bustling meeting place that offers reliably good Caesar salad and roast beef. Skip the nice but unremarkable coffee bar and order a cup instead at Anneli Viik's café and chocolate store. Viik names her truffles after pieces of music: There's Bolero (coffee and Cognac), Tosca (marzipan and praline), and Baileys-filled Madame Butterfly. If you want a drink and a late-night meal—and Tallinn's friendliest service—visit the new Angel. It carries the vibe of an old-world cellar bar, with a vaulted brick ceiling and open fireplace, but the snappily dressed staff and bistro menu (ranging from bruschetta to tarte tatin) represent the city at its most modern. Angel adjoins Tallinn's coolest gay club, but the café is open to—and attracts—everyone.
There's really no reason to venture outside the Old Town these days—except to eat at Ö and Spirit, which are housed in the same building just beyond the medieval walls. Ö is an opulent dining room presenting such French-accented fare as panfried foie gras. Spirit is a café that echoes an Adirondack lodge: stone walls, stag horns, and Ralph Lauren-style black-and-white photographs.
It's only on the shopping front that Tallinn disappoints—unless you're in the mood for Russian dolls, amber jewelry, and marzipan fruit. But Zizi is worth a visit for the Lithuanian linens printed in muted colors or bold geometrical designs. Traditional Balkan handiwork updated with a contemporary aesthetic: What could be a more fitting souvenir of Estonia now?
THREE SISTERS HOTEL Rates, $360-$790. At 71 Pikk; 372-6/306-300; www.threesistershotel.com
ANGEL At 1 Sauna; 372-6/274-771; www.clubangel.ee
ANNELI VIIK At 30 Pikk; 372-6/444-530; www.anneliviik.ee
KOHVIK MOSKVA Dinner, $35. At 10 Vabaduse Väljak; 372-6/404-692; www.moskva.ee
Ö $ Dinner, $70. At 6E Mere Pst; 372-6/616-150; www.restoran-o.ee
SPIRIT $ Dinner, $20. At 6E Mere Pst; 372-6/088-184
STEREO At 6 Harju; 372-6/310-549; www.stereolounge.ee
ZIZI At 12 Vene; 372-6/441-222
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.