History of Restaurant Entri
The world’s first cafes appeared in the Arab Caliphate and the Turkish Ottoman Empire during the Middle Ages. As it is forbidden for the Muslims to consume alcoholic beverages, they replaced them with ‘Islamic wine’ – coffee. In Europe, the first cafes were opened in Marseille, London, Venice and Vienna during the second half of the 17th century. As coffee beans were roasted and ground at the cafes, the spreading aroma was a good advertising for lovers of the new drink. However, coffee and cafes were cursed by beer and wine sellers who now had a dangerous competitor.
In Estonia, the first café was opened relatively early compared to the Western Europe – in 1702. That was really a café, not a canteen or a pub. Alcohol was not offered in any of the cafes in Tartu. Kokoko is said to have attempted to bring in wine in the beginning, but soon gave up that idea. Coffee, tea, chocolate, cakes, tortes and buns were served and that was all. But in the café, one could read all the major newspapers – also foreign newspapers in bigger cafes – which were attached to the wooden pole and which the visitors could take themselves from the wall. Or the waiter could be asked for help. In case of need, ink, a pen and a sheet of writing paper could be asked from the cafe. Even the headache powder. If the visitors had a call in the café, they were politely asked to go to the phone. It was a point of honour for each waitresses to know the regular customers of the café by name and face. One could leave a letter or a package for a friend who definitely received it. A café was primarily a place for conversations, meetings and relaxation.
The Postimees of 21 March 1934 announced:
“On Wednesday, 21 March 1934, a new café was opened in the basement of a big house situated at the corner of Gustav Adolf and Rüütli Street. The owner of the café was the artist Nigul Espe who painted the mural paintings himself. The fountains and decorative masks are from the sculptor A. Mihkelson, other sculptural decorations from A. Starkopf, V. Melnik, E. Jõesäär and M. Saks.”
Nigul Espe ( 12.03.1907 Riga- 14.03.1970 Tartu ) graduated from Pallas Higher Art School in Tartu and was remarkable as a painter and a furniture artist. He designed also the interior of the café of the new art and literary people of Tartu.
Although the opening of KO-KO-KO was shortly attended by the bohemian family of Tartu to see that apache stuff and have a closer look at the landline phones, they quickly returned to Werner by the next evening. Young national writers in corpore moved to the new café as there they could slide on the dance parquet floor. There was no such opportunity at Werner Cafe.”
The journalist’s message requires comments. N. Espe designed novel seats with a triangular bottom and placed white landline phones on the tables which could be used for calling from one table to another. (White phones which so far had been seen only in foreign hit movies were considered the symbols of a luxurious lifestyle).
A competition was announced for finding a name for the new café and from the suggestions received, KO- KO- KO (In Tallinn, Viru Street, the modern cinema Bi-Ba-Bo operated),which sounded attractive, was chosen. In an abbreviated form, it was supposed to mean Kolme Koopa Kohvik (Three Caves Café) as three niches (= caves) were meant for customers, the semi-arched rear walls of which were decorated by N. Espe’s national romantic mural paintings of the life of ancient Estonians. The students of Tartu interpreted Ko- Ko- Ko as Koolnud Koera Kohvik (Café of a Dead Dog), in brief, simply Koobas (Cave).
Besides N. Espe, Mrs. O. Gold (also Kold) is mentioned as the owner of the new cafe. They ordered 54 scientific, literary and political magazines and newspapers from both Estonia and foreign countries to their café in order to attract academic groups. This was more than Tartu University Library could afford. This, of course, required quite a lot of money which became scarce soon.
The main culture was formed by artists, both lecturers and students from Pallas, also younger left-wing university lecturers. Namely, A. Kaal, A. Johani, lecturer of dramatic art, Karl Ader, Professors Paul Kogerman, August Tammekann, Ernst Ein, chief editor of Estonian Encyclopaedia, Richard Kleis, several actors of the Vanemuine Theatre. The artists Ott Kangilaki and Romulus Tiitus liked to sit in a more quiet place and sketch drawings and caricatures of the well-known customers.
In the evening hours, a trio was playing for adding to the spirit. The younger audience considered their programme old fashioned as there were no popular tunes. Central’s dance music was said to be much more up to date.
Later regular customers of Koobas included the architect Arnold Matteus and the composers Eduard Oja and Eduard Tubin.
Ott Kangilaski published a retrospective review “Vana Tartu” (“Old Tartu”) in the magazine Akadeemia in 1990, in which (page 611) he also mentions KO-KO-KO. Kangilaski wrote: For a while, Werner was offered tight competition by Kolme Koopa Kohvik in Gustav Adolf Street – took its main audience away for several years. This was because it had the most extensive choice of newspapers and magazines and the waitresses were extra carefully selected beauties. Among the latter, there were quite a few of those who made career by becoming the spouse of the café’s lawyer or a similar partner. In the evenings, a solid trio played quiet music. For four or five years, this café was the main meeting place for the intelligentsia of Tartu. Here the Looming, Tänapäev, Üliõpilasleht and Akadeemia were edited. Everybody knew one another and a strange face was hardly seen. But later, due to arguments between the owners of the café, KO-KO-KO went downhill and the main audience moved back to Werner.”
KO-KO-KO was opened in March 1934 with the evening of Art and Writers’ Club which was devoted to the actor of the Vanemuine Theatre, August Sunne, founder of the children’s plays in the Estonian theatre. Later, the writers met their readers at Koobas and gave advertising-oriented presentations of their recent works. In March 1940, the exhibition of the artworks of four younger artists of Tartu was organised. Elmar Kits, Viktor Karrus et al presented their creation. Thus, KO-KO-KO continued as a meeting place of Bohemians, although the Päevaleht of 2 March 1938 announced that the café would be moved out of the existing premises since the café owners had violated the lease contract. Since then, N. Espe was no longer among the owners of the cafe.
KO-KO-KO was mentioned in the newspapers again in relation to the summer floods that put the customers in danger. The heavy thunderstorms and rain that occurred in Tartu caused huge amounts of rainwater, so that the water running down the Toome Hill towards the Emajõgi blocked the sewage system and flooded the basements. But Koobas was a basement café where not the purest water started to flood in from the sewage holes on the floor. This came in the audience room like thick coffee, so that the customers had to stand up on seats from where the fire fighters took them in their arms and brought out to the street. Due to the flood, the café’s activity was disturbed for a while, not to mention the damage caused.
During the Second World War, 3 cafes out of 6 were destroyed. Of those remained, only Werner – then called “Tartu” – essentially maintained the look of a café and a considerable cultural role. By their menu, the cafes reminded more of the canteens or, at most, the restaurants. Alcoholic beverages were sold everywhere, so that for many young people the cafes became a pre-school for consuming wine, liqueur and cognac.
KO-KO-KO also became a canteen. Indeed, with somewhat better kitchen than other eateries in the centre of Tartu.
Except for Ateen which was named Volga. In late 1940’s, the delicious sauces of Koobas were praised among the students. Later, its schnitzels and cutlets also received recognition. Meat portions were great and well fried. In that sense, Koobas was offered competition only by the restaurant at the Railway Station, which was just a stone’s throw from Vana-Tiigi Street.
Koobas more and more started to become a favourite place for beer lovers until it became a beer restaurant Humal.