Delicious burgers and fantastic graffiti diversity next to the table. When you go to Vilnius you should definitely visit the unconventional artist and alternative dinner place Keulė Rūkė in the Pylimo street 66 near the train station. The whole restaurant, the walls outside and inside, the garden area in the backyard and even the roof and the floor, just everything is painted and bombed. It´s a wonderfully loaded color clash you wouldn´t expect in this street close to the tracks.
When they opened Keulė Rūkė in 2014 the area and the streets around were more a red light district and quite a dodgy one. A lot changed during the years and the location had its influence to remake this part of town. But the concept developed as well, the little artist refugee acted at first more system criticizing and politically provoking. The mural about Trump kissing Putin on the front is notorious and meanwhile well know around the world.
But over the years it went quite down with the business nearly till bankruptcy. New owners and some of the old involved remodeled the restaurant and brought it back on the line. Putin and Trump are remodelled from kissing to shotgun kissing and there have been added some more gang members. But in general they reinvented Keule and themselves, and that´s how it should be with art. Importantly they upgraded the food part, made the burger menu bigger and tasty. But when Marla Singer, one of the founders and co-owners, came back after an absence, she brought new sprayers and let them just repaint the whole coverage of the building, the toilets and even the fridge.
The paintings, graffitis and artworks are continually changing. Everybody can actually go there and do something creative with spray cans or with brushes and paint. During our visit they just switched the message on the front side during a night project. Marla Singer and her team changed the agenda from being provocative critical to forgiveness and spending empathy. Therefore the new message is going much deeper on the core.
Putin and Trump kissing or smoking a joint went now inside the restaurant on a wall, they copied it very quickly and well done. It´s still famous and some memory that should stay. The outside went now in complete pink. Marla said “like in a fairy tale”. In front of the wall the Vilnius sculptor Domas Mykolas made a little Donald Trump as a kid. And he is holding a spray can behind his back. On the wall there is now written in black letters “make empathy great again”. So hug the boy! And ask, what did happen or when did it went wrong? An interesting approach with new appropriate impulses to current times.
In the middle of Vilnius city we sat on the rooftop of Keulė Rūkė, the surrounding covered from top to bottom with nice graffiti and had an interview with the Vilnius artists Marla Singer. She is the founder and runs the artist administration. The conversation is written down in the following part. As well we spoke with Adam who is organizing the business. His podcast and written part comes after Marla´s interview.
When did you open this place here, Keulė Rūkė?
I think it was in 2014. I opened it with my ex-husband, he was responsible for the food, and I was about art directing and helping the artists. When we just opened we were like phenomenal in Vilnius, because we were making barbecue. True barbecue. And we had our grill machines for preparing it by ourselves. Everybody was really excited about the food. And all the hype was about the burgers. Then after three years, I left the project. Because we divorced, and during that time I started my own project. It was more like a social project and it was called High School, but more like high on weed school. There I made a school of graffiti. Yeah, a school of graffiti for young people.
Oh, nice! So with workshops. You showed them how to paint there?
Yes, yes, with free walls. Because in Vilnius it is really strict. Very strict. Like lots of graffiti artists and taggers are emigrating abroad.
Because they get criminalized very strongly?
Yes, yes. It is really a serious thing and we need to have a place for this art. I was doing the school, but during the time I was doing it, I heard that Keulė Rūkė is on the bankruptcy line. At this time, there was not only barbecue, we had the mural with Trump and Putin nearly kissing, and that was the main thing with graffiti with our restaurant at that time. But I was doing my school in one of the buildings a building company just gave me, because I had a page where I was promoting graffiti and they offered me a free building. So I made a school there. Then the new owners of Keulė Rūkė or this restaurant just wrote me: “Maybe you want to come back? Because the restaurant is in really bad shape and we don´t want to ruin it. We want to try to make it good again.” And I agreed. The same day the building company told me, that my school is like going to be turned down. They had to turn down the building, because it was like abandoned and they already started building something new.
So one thing came to the other.
Yes, it was like a miracle. Because I came here, I walked inside and I was thinking: What should I do now? Because they took me as an art director, for communications, strategies and so ever. So I just brought all the taggers, all the graffiti artists and everyone here. Like we bombed all the place and changed the music, made the food better. Because at bankruptcy time it was really bad with the quality of the food stew. But now we changed and are different. Because before that time Keulė Rūkė was quite famous in the press by really huge arguments. We were involved even in the politics. So now we are totally different. We are more about the community, more about the artists. We say: “Come here and eat. Because if you eat here, you support us and we support artists.” We give them paint, we give them food, we give them even money. Because sometimes we get as well painting jobs here in Vilnius.
Yeah, and it is really interesting, that you came today, because tomorrow night we are making new artwork there. In the night, we are going to make here a new one. Trump and Putina are going inside, because the last owner still want them to be and they are very famous meanwhile. So it is going to be quite interesting. That night you can come as well to see the happening. When I came back to Keulė Rūkė I made some addings to Putin and Trump kissing. So for now you can still see some more dictators.
Yes, I like this crew. The gang.
Belarusian people really love it. And I know the law is really strict there. When they come here they really say: “Thank you! Thank you for Lukaschenka!” So yes, it´s important for some people.
When you do graffiti and streetart you need some bravery, but this is even a step further. Surely a lot of people don´t like this paintings, and I am sure, some want to have this place closed down. But you don´t stop doing your thing, so it´s a little refugee oasis for artists.
I don´t know. Like before we would have taken this position. Like “Oh, nobody likes us!” Now I have a bit different opinion. Because at first when we bombed all the place I was really scared that people won´t understand what´s happening. But I believe in miracles and miracles happen. Because new people started to come. And now we have not the old auditory coming, but new people who are coming in. They hear hip hop, they see the walls. And sometimes I sit here, I am here quite a lot, so I sit and see them and then I see the smile on their face. And they are like: “Wow, that´s a crazy place!” And they are deciding to stay. That´s what we are working for. Not for the fight somebody or something. And there is not so much fighting anymore about our policy and our tags and all that. Because Trump and Putin got really famous. And because just of that people started saying: “Ok, ok, you are good.”
It´s like critical art.
Yes, it´s like protecting us from the peoples´ hate about the streetart and graffiti. My position was always and even in the press and everywhere to talk about streetart not in a brutal way. I talk about it as a therapy. Because like you said, it needs lots of bravery to do what we are doing. But each of the graffiti painters or tagger, he is fighting his fight with the fear by doing what he is doing. And we support that.
Could you say there was a changing in the concept. Before that it was more political, it was more like a protest, and now you stepped a bit bag and focus more on the art?
Yes. Yeah, we focus more on the art. On the piece. We don´t care how many people are not understanding or what people think about us. We just want to do what we really like. And we want to let people as well express themselves even if we are all different. We want to connect everything together. Because we are also playing Hip Hop, but on Thursday we are having a Jewish orchestra concert and events like that. In Vilnius there is no such other place like ours and we are really about peace. The Vilnius people are a very closed because after the war our parents and grandparents were really into fear. You couldn´t trust anyone and you can really feel it in the city vibes and in all the people. So we are trying with the help of the art to make it better.
The suppression is gone in some way, but it is still there in the heads. So it´s much more important that you bring color on the streets of the city to give new impulses on the people´s brains.
Yes. The new artwork which is going to replace Trump and Putin is a new message, because I don´t think that Trump and Putin now fits our idea anymore. It is also from the old times and doesn´t fit our philosophy now. The new artwork is going to reflect this better. Now we are more like Banksy. Before that we were like this pig face, the big logo. It was an angry pig which was always complaining about something and making a big drama in the press and all that.
Times change. But it is still interesting to see the big Stalin head on the roof and on his forehead and nose it looks like he was pressing his head to long against a window or a wall. Maybe years ago this was the way how to criticize, but now it looks a bit like from an old museum. So you need new streetart of today.
Yes, we decided to give this one as a present. We have this Grouta Park, it is a park full of Soviet sculptures. So we are going to give it as a present to the park. With Trump and Putin kissing, I was one of the authors. We were three of us. My ex-husband and my cousin. I was the art director, my cousin was the illustrator and my ex-husband was the star. So now I don´t think it´s a good way to see Trump. Because it´s also a bit bullying. And not in a good way. Making him a gay is like funny? Why? So I don´t believe that. The new artwork is going to be a sculpture. Like a fairy tale. The press release is going to be about a boy who was not loved by his Mum and Dad, and that´s why he became a monster. And you can be the one who can break the curse, because you would need to hug the sculpture. They boy. And the boy is Trump. So it´s about love and forgiveness.
Sounds really nice. A different development. Like forgiving and therapy. War is over, we don´t need to fight anymore, but the consequences are still there, people are hurt. So you don´t need to fight them, they need like therapy and to just get over it.
They need to forgive. Yes. We are also really about supporting weed legalization and we have always been about that. At first Trump was kissing Putin. But when the neighbor just clashed some paint over it and we had to remake it I was really about the thematic. My granddad died six years ago, he had cancer. And that time in Vilnius cannabis was totally illegal, it was like heroine. If you smoke weed, it was like: “Oh my god! You are a drug addict! That´s very bad!” So we were the first ones who bravely put a joint there and said like: “That´s good!” Now time have changed also, but we are still at the same place. It´s still illegal, still very hard. So we are saying that we are letting people smoke in our terrace on our rooftop and you are safe here. It´s like a secret thing between all of us. But we had no problems yet and the peace is working. Because people are smoking here, but we still had no raids, no problems with the police. And it is as well because we are also not trying to fight them but talk to them to make it better. We say this is a cannabis friendly place, a decent friendly place. And people can come here and smoke here and if we see it, we don´t taking them out because they are smoking a joint. We agree with that. And also next month we are having an event. It is going to be more like an art performance event. Then we name our place as well a coffee shop and we are going to sell not THC, but CBD joints here. As well we are going to have an astronaut with a big bong, also a sculpture. And there will be concerts and all that, but it is going to be more like a statement. We still need that. I also made a few years ago some streetart in Luziupus, the place I live. It was like the revolution painting. You know the painting of the revolution? The French painting with the woman. Egalité, Liberté, Fraternité. So I recalled it like Egalité, Liberté, Legalizé. And I made a part for people to sign for legalization because the law doesn´t work. It was nice, because there were lots of people signing this thing. And we see that they really need that. Young people need cannabis to get better after the same things our parents and grandparents had to go through.
So this here is actually a free painting place. Other people can come to you, ask you, they can bring their cans and just do some painting here. It´s free for everybody.
Here you get the second interview with Adam from the organization team. He is responsible for financing and business administration. The conversation is as well written down in the following part.
I already spoke to Marla, so she is more responsible for the art and you are more in the organization part. Tell me a little bit about what you do here in this project.
Mostly as in all the cases you need to have artists to have art. And you need to have an administrative manager to do the part with money and managing. So I do that part.
You took the place when it was nearly close before bankruptcy and you remodeled it and reopened it. So why do you like this place here?
The thing is, the guys who run Keulė Rūkė and who began that project were not very successful. And they almost closed in 2018. It´s one of my part of business of what I do, I take over other businesses which are closing. So I took over Keulė Rūkė, but I feel very happy to be here as an owner. I am having fun. Actually I don´t know the answer to your question, why I am here. Because like some years ago I would say to anybody, that you never jump into a restaurant business. But it´s fun to be inside. You meet lots of nice people. And it´s possible to do business here. So I´m still thinking about what am I doing here. But I am trying to finance.
So you basic work area is like you look on projects business which are close of going down and you try to get it up again. But first you think about if it´s worth it. What did you see in this place? You must have seen there is some value in it.
Generally what I do, I take businesses which are going to bankruptcy. I dissemble them and I sell them by parts. It´s not the case with Keulė Rūkė, because I see huge potential in the art they do. And I believe it is possible to combine good food with good art and the community. I´m not very sure if that will bring me any profit, but it definitely brings me some fame.
Can I say in a way you started to get some feelings for this place, you fell a little bit in love with it and you don´t want to sell it, because there is more about only making money? And it´s important to have a place like this in Vilnius?
I have to start from the point. I have never been to this restaurant before I took it over. And to whom I know, and to your listeners, I believe it´s a huge point. You invest into a thing which you have never been to. I have never visited the restaurant as a client before. And today to see it is possible to do this here as a huge example for how a really poor area of Vilnius which is near the city center can change. On the other side it is by the railroad and it was not ever famous. You can see how this could be redeveloped into a hugely attractive restaurant. And yes, I do have feelings for this restaurant!
Nice! I think there are not so many places like this here. This is quite unique for the city. So you tried to make something completely new and to keep it alive. Do you think this place is important for the alternative scene? Is it a meeting spot?
I don´t see that as new. It´s just different. We are trying to do not popular decisions here. We are not aiming guys who are going to a restaurant who have a lady with high heels and with ties. We love this guys too of course! I mean, I love seeing high heels on these stony grounds. It´s difficult to walk on it. It is one of the most difficulties for ladies with high heels to walk on these stony grounds. But they still do that, because of the burgers. We are different than some place, but it´s very common for us. And I´ve been told a couple of times, we are bringing bills into Vilnius.
I think a place like this is important for city because it brings a lot of different parts together and it shows each part the other ones. Sometimes people just don´t know and then they come and say: “Ok, I wouldn´t have come if there was no food, they have really nice burgers, but at the same time I can see all this nice art. Maybe I don´t like that, but I love this one.” So it is as well a little gallery, a little explanation of what graffiti and streetart can be.
Basically I have a huge experience with art because of my Mum. She works at an art magazine, the oldest art magazine in Lithuania. There she is an editor. And maybe also because of this I do invest money and let all the guys do what they want on all the walls. Somehow it brings the profit type, because people want to visit something which is new and developing and changing. And graffiti is an art which has to change all the time. Sometimes you hate it, sometimes you like it and sometimes you don´t understand that. It changes and you come back. That´s the point.
Nice concept, so you are popular, but it is more an underground place.
It´s a strange feeling, we don´t attract tourists. On one hand we want to. But we are not a tourist place. It is a place which is open to everybody. A lot of tourists come here. But we are not a tourist place which is trying to screw the tourists here.
If it would be just your work, I think you would speak differently. So this here is a bit more than just your work. You really like this place. A place like this doesn´t function, if you have only artists, or only business people. If there is only business there is no energy. But if you have people from different parts working together, you can make a really nice project running.
Probably the only thing I should say and add there is that this is an amazing project. As doctor of management I should say that with all the restaurants, with all the businesses that you have to put hands on it´s the same: At the moment when you take your hands off, it falls apart. That´s the only uniqueness here in the business like this which I struggled to fight with. Because you cannot make a system work with a restaurant which develops every day and every minute. It attracts a lot of your time. But somehow I like it. It kills a lot of my other projects, but I still like it.
Tell me a little bit about the food. What can you eat here, what kind of food do you have?
Well, we started, or the restaurant started with pulled burgers which was very new in Lithuania. And we added beef burgers. Like aged beef burgers and some chicken wings. It´s a nice place to sit down and to have a burger and some beer and to have fun. And sure we have fries and salads and all that. We even added a vegan burger which is nice actually in a pork place. There are as well some general cocktails if you like. But you know, it´s not a pizza place. It´s a burger place. And I invite anyone to come over and visit us and to find out if anything I told is true.
Adress: Pylimo g. 66, Vilnius 01136
Phone: +370 623 29839 / +370 608 42493
Open: Mon – Wed: 11 – 22, Fri: 11 – 2, Sat: 12 – 2, Sun: 12 – 22
Foto Credits: Vagabundler, Keulė Rūkė, Marla Singer
MORE ARTICLES ABOUT LITHUANIA
>>> Streetart Map Vilnius <<<
>>> Keulė Rūkė & Artist Marla Singer <<<
>>> Sculptor Domas Mykolas <<<