The Tbilisi artistic café Kimerioni1 was founded in 1919 as “a Georgian poetry café-club”2 at the initiative of Georgia’s first modernist literary grouping, the Tsisperqants’elebi, or Blue Horn Poets. The very same year, the Russian artist Sergei Sudeikin, alongside the local Georgian artists Lado Gudiashvili and David K’ak’abadze, decorated it with murals.
The Kimerioni was an important part of Tbilisi’s artistic milieu between 1919 and 1921. It was a site where works of art were displayed, actively discussed, and theoretically interpreted. It was a space for consumption and social intercourse, a café-restaurant, founded at the same time for specifically artistic activity, conforming to the general contours of “café culture” as it had emerged elsewhere in Europe and Russia. In this sense the Kimerioni, along with numerous other artistic cafés functioning in Tbilisi between 1917 and 1921,3 can be regarded as part of a wider modernist phenomenon, that of the artistic cabaret-club-café, which sprung up in practically all the big cities of Europe, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, beginning in the late nineteenth century.4
The establishment of such institutions was dictated by a specific cultural and political context that defined the chronology of their creation, their functional character, and their socio-cultural orientation. As a rule, artistic cabarets arose in periods of political crisis and great change.5 Moreover, their appearance coincided with the completion of a historical process by which art was to become an increasingly differentiated activity, perceived as a subjective, self-sufficient form of cognition and expression, resulting in its complete self-regulation and secularization. At [End Page 307] the same time, a clear tendency towards a synthesis or fusion of the arts was palpable: indeed, it was one of the central aesthetic gestures of the epoch. Artistic cabaret-clubs were one key reflection of this tendency.6
These very circumstances, of social crisis and artistic self-differentiation, arose in Tbilisi during the 1910s, giving rise to a “cabaret epidemic” that had already been felt elsewhere in Russia and Europe. The establishment of artistic cafés in Tbilisi coincided with the active immigration of artists from Russia: indeed, all of them were founded by modernists of different nationalities residing in Tbilisi during that time. Although Georgians who had travelled overseas, such as the symbolist writer Grigol Robakidze and the Blue Horn P’aolo Iashvili, would have been familiar with café culture even before, both the tradition of artistic cafés and the specific aesthetics of their décor were closely associated in Georgian eyes with the cafés of Moscow and St. Petersburg.7
By the 1910s, a large number of cafés had arisen in Tbilisi, each with a distinct role and function. These cafés looked back on certain local or indigenous precedents, such as the literary salon, a large number of which existed in Tbilisi at that time. But the most significant precedents then in existence was the traditional city tavern (dukani) and the Laghidze Café, the first “European” café in Georgia, which opened its doors in Georgia’s second city of Kutaisi in 1904, and subsequently in Tbilisi in 1906.
According to E. Kuznetsov, the traditional dukani’s function was very broad, functioning as a sort of club.8 The Tbilisi dukani was typified by an atmosphere of festive openness and candor, in which the tavern doubled as a home, and its owner its patriarchal host and presiding artist. It was a place where people of common social rank and background, with similar interests and tastes, united around the table to the accompaniment of song, wine, speechmaking, and poetry. Here consumption acquired a ritualized form and evolved into an aesthetic act.9 While traditionally attracting the urban popular classes, the taverns of Kutaisi and Tbilisi were also places where the Blue Horn Modernists, and creative people in general, used to gather. The café, by contrast, was a typically European and modern form of urban public sociability.10 The Laghidze Cafés of Kutaisi and Tbilisi were in the main visited by intellectuals and the literate élites: indeed, their symbolic function, as Paul Manning has noted, was to...