Popular Bar has been around for ages - it was, literally, popular when I first reached Tallinn in 2011, and was the scene of one of my first nights out, where I was part of a group of international residents that shared a water pipe in Popular, and then finished off at a now-defunct and not-lamented Irish tourist dive on Viru street.
Back then it was a regular haunt for many because of its old-school feel - no "modern dining", just low lighting, beige dinginess and a feeling of smoking in private little caves. It was tremendous, leaving me feeling liberated and seedy in equal measures, in the way someone would if they escaped a health farm and gorged on curry.
Just as Tallinn has gentrified over the past three years, so Popular has evolved. Last year it was purchased by the people who brought us Kalamaja's impressive and great-value Boheem Kohvik. The changes made to Popular are a dual-edged sword. On the one side, it's now a much nicer place to sit and chat, not feeling as oppressive, or as studenty, as it used to. On the other side, it's lost a lot of that old character, and now feels like a lot of Kesklinn cafes - just hipsterised enough to make people like me feel vaguely edgy, while sitting on 1970s furniture and drinking from old-shape glasses, yet still not offering anything in terms of music, lighting or menu choice that might frighten the horses.
In Popular's favour, though, stands the food. It's not going to win culinary awards - a friend of mine and I tried the pelmeenid in a cheesy mushroom sauce, and were put off by the almost cement-like consistency of the thick, floury cheese sauce, although the meat pelmeenid were tasty and moist. But other meals work far better. The pizza is a big portion, the ingredients taste reasonably fresh, and it, like everything else on the menu, is available until late - a godsend for people who have left the cinema and see only the overpriced Sfäär, or the limited (but good) night menu at HETK, as an option. The hamburger is well-cooked, with a nice compliment of side salad, and some agricultural wedges of sweet potato (when did we decide we were above chips/fries?). It's a pleasure to eat.
And that's the thing - the prices are stunningly low, compared to most central-Tallinn food. The main courses may be, occasionally, a little rough around the edges, but there aren't any other Old Town bars where I can happily have a civilised chat into the night while eating a nice pizza that cost around 5EUR. And in this era of lemonade lifestyle on Champagne prices, that's something to be celebrated.