Mirzoyan Library, a bohemian photography library and bar in the heart of Yerevan | The Escapist

The Escapist

Where?

Yerevan, Armenia

What?

In the midst of Yerevan’s chaotic city centre, concealed behind an enigmatic archway, hides a bohemian 19th-century courtyard. Around it, on the intricate wooden-panelled balconies of a two-storey building, a few people are browsing photo books, sipping coffee, and whiling away the worst of the afternoon heat by sitting around vintage sewing tables and upcycled wooden chairs. Inside, glossy prints decorate the walls, lined with stacks of art books. This is Mirzoyan Library, an eclectic oasis for creatives, cocktail enthusiasts and coffee lovers in the heart of the Armenian capital.

The Library — the largest photographic collection in the Caucasus — is the eponymous creation of Tbilisi-born Armenian photographer Karen Mirzoyan. Pursuing a lifelong passion fuelled by photobooks, Mirzoyan spent many years on the road, working for publications such as Time, Harpers and Newsweek. On his travels, he realised that although Armenians pioneered the art of photography in the Middle East, present-day Armenia offered no space for emerging photographers to learn, inspire, or become inspired themselves. In 2014, that changed: Mirzoyan got hold of the lease of a former aristocratic building off Yerevan’s central Tigran Mets avenue and, starting with his own collection of 100 photography books, opened the Mirzoyan Library.

Today, the shelves hold more than 600 titles, and the space has evolved to house a cafe, a bar, and a couple of workshop and exhibition spaces within its photography-covered walls. Serving delicious, homemade bites, a range of hot drinks and handcrafted cocktails — you can admire a photo series on the Mirzoyan Menu here — Mirzoyan Library is a round-the-clock hangout spot. In the morning, fuel up in caffeine and browse through gems such as Turkish-Armenian photographer Ara Guler’s Eye of Istanbul, or other lesser-known photography collections from Armenia and the wider Caucasus region. During the day, attend a photography class, a printmaking workshop or a film screening. When the sun sets, cocktail in hand, unwind in the Library’s wooden veranda to the hypnotic beats of a live DJ set, a jazz concert or a psychedelic rock gig. A creative temple for locals, if you are lucky enough to find your way around Yerevan’s alleys, Mirzoyan Library will give you a glimpse of what it is like to be part of the booming creative circles of the Armenian capital.

What not to miss in Yerevan:

— Taste the wonders of Syrian Armenian cuisine at Zaatar Pizza. Next door to Mirzoyan Library, this family-run restaurant serves delicious Middle Eastern dishes at very affordable prices. If you only try one thing, then the cheese and zaatar flatbread is a must.

— Delve deep into Armenian culture at the Sergei Parajanov Museum. A tribute to the diverse artistic and literary heritage of the legendary Soviet Armenian filmmaker, the museum is a labyrinthic feast for the senses and a must-visit for cinema aficionados.

— In summer, catch the Dancing Light Fountain show at Yerevan’s central Hraparak, Republic Square. Featuring multicolour neon lasers and acrobatic gushes of water, this daily event marks the start of a typical summer night in Yerevan, when the streets and outdoor bars are bustling with youthful energy until the late hours of the night.

Text: Lucía de la Torre

Top image: Courtesy of Mirzoyan Library

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