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Founded in 1973 and housed in a building from 1903 that is considered a Latvian architectural monument, the Janis Rozentāls/Rūdolfs Blaumanis Museum contains art and artifacts from famous Latvian artist Janis Rozentāls (1866 – 1916) and his descendants. The museum is interesting enough, particularly the decoration in the stairwell leading to the top floor where the museum itself is situation in three rooms.
But the real attraction lies across the road, in the form of the Sienna Art Cafe. Even from a distance we were drawn to this small yet atmospheric cafe with its large windows partly obscured by books and ornaments. As anticipated, the inside of the cafe is enticing with its well-dressed staff and shining display of Latvian treats, comfortable chairs and overabundance of art books and ornaments.
The staff were elegantly dressed (the man in a shirt and formal vest and bow-tie) and very polite, friendly and accommodating (a stark contrast to the sometimes harsh demeanor of post-communist wait staff).
The cafe is relatively new. It was started about four years ago by the owner, who has a passion for art and style. The name is a vestige of the cafe that previously inhabited this space, which had sienna-coloured walls. Now the walls are covered in patterned-silk.
Numerous elements come together to make this cafe an exceptional place in which we felt very comfortable and inclined to linger. Perhaps the fundamental factor is that it springs from the owner’s own passion. The cafe is designed according to her own taste, and somewhat for her own enjoyment (apparently she visits daily). As a result, the authenticity of the place is tangible. Its appeal is a testament to the strength of a decommodifed venture (which is exceedingly rare these days). It is clear that the cafe is not just a means to make money, and its success capitalises on the emerging maxim that success is best achieved by approaching goals indirectly.
The appeal is helped by the exquisite desserts (produced by M’archers bakery, from down the road – the (Goat’s)Cheese Cake with the salted caramel is fantastic), and the exceptional Vella Milti espresso blend (from the Rocket Bean Roastery in Riga).
That they serve “good” coffee shouldn’t be overlooked. More often than not the coffee we experienced elsewhere in Riga was only okay and sometimes lamentable (don’t buy coffee at the railway station near the central markets!).
Overall, the Sienna Art Cafe is a unique phenomenon among the ‘false-fronts’ that plague both tourist destinations and capitalist societies (ranging from the chiropractor we encountered years ago whose mission for the month was not to improve the well-being of X number of patients but to make $20,000 AUD in revenue to the disjoint between chain coffee stores and the essence of the Milanese espresso bars they originally tried to capture). It very much reminded me of the authentic and outstanding Dubai Coffee Museum, which is also a product of the owner’s passion, not explicitly designed just to make money, and also serves coffee.
Accordingly, the Sienna Art Cafe is not just a tourist destination – about half the clientele are locals. It’s the perfect place for a cosy cup of coffee and an illicit sugary treat.