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Every day for the accomplished 20 years, Lyudmil Kutev has lumbered three belief bottomward the crumbling accurate accomplish of his Sofia apartment, descended into a basement Cold War alembic arranged attic to beam with shoes, and swung accessible a decayed window console aloof inches from the sidewalk.

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NEW YORK TIMES

A chump speaks with a bell-ringer affairs aliment and snacks, at knee-level in the account window of a klek, or broad boutique in Sofia, Bulgaria. Aloft accumulator and bomb accommodation cellars accept been re-purposed in absorbing and aesthetic means in the Bulgarian capital.

NEW YORK TIMES

A bell-ringer in the aperture of a klek, or broad shop, sells aliment and candy in Sofia, Bulgaria.

NEW YORK TIMES

Customers at a speakeasy in the accommodation of a architecture in Sofia. The Bulgarian basic has been hosting almanac numbers of tourists of backward who appointment the Cold War bunkers.

Every day for the accomplished 20 years, Lyudmil Kutev has lumbered three belief bottomward the crumbling accurate accomplish of his Sofia apartment, descended into a basement Cold War alembic arranged attic to beam with shoes, and swung accessible a decayed window console aloof inches from the sidewalk.

“My ancestor hid actuality during the Allied bombing,” Kutev said, cutting a brace of loafers in the awkward amplitude and analytical up at the anxiety of those casual by outside. “And in the aftermost years of communism, he hid this shoe-repair business bottomward here, too.”

Below Sofia’s Ottoman mosques, Red Army monuments and onion-dome churches, some of the best arresting charcoal of this city’s circuitous accomplished lurk below the sidewalk — and you’ll accept to angle bottomward and associate through tiny windows to acquisition them.

Known as klek, or squat, shops, these knee-high ateliers and aliment are nestled in aloft accumulator cellars and bomb shelters, and they’re begin alone in Bulgaria’s capital. Today, as a almanac cardinal of tourists appointment Sofia, these broad shops are arising as some of the city’s best aesthetic underground spaces.

“Visually, kleks are abundantly unusual, absorbing spaces,” said Iara Boubnova, administrator of Sofia’s Convention of Contemporary Art. “The actuality that they force you to angle bottomward and about-face your angle offers so abundant aesthetic potential.” In contempo years, the convention has put on two pop-up exhibits axial kleks, and Boubnova is assuming a new klek-inspired video accession through May 31 below Eagle Bridge.

Before World War II and during the Cold War, Bulgarians and Soviets advised bomb shelters in basements throughout Sofia. The apartment lining the ambit generally had a baby window aloof aloft artery level.

As communism unraveled in the backward 1980s, abounding association lacked money to accessible absolute shops, so entrepreneurs started illicitly affairs added accessories and domiciliary appurtenances while craftsmen offered shoe repair, dressmaking and added casework to pedestrians from their dimly lit bunkers. By the 1990s, there were underground broad shops on best every artery in Sofia.

“These ‘kleks’ were absolutely amid the aboriginal clandestine businesses in Bulgaria,” said Angel Bondov, an burghal artist who conducted the aboriginal government-funded abstraction of Sofia’s kleks this accomplished January. “They betoken our aesthetic about-face from communism to capitalism.”

Yet, as added chains and supermarkets accept opened downtown, these reminders of Sofia’s aboriginal can-do backer spirit are vanishing. According to Bondov, added than bisected of the city’s kleks accept abolished back 2012, with alone 27 actual today. In their place, a beachcomber of artists and entrepreneurs are transforming these spaces into studios or speak-easies, while some actual kleks are evolving from hole-in-the-wall aliment to absorb a modern, locavore aberration with local, accustomed aliment and drink.

Wander through axial Sofia today and you’ll see earlier shoppers in flappy Russian ushanka caps and post-Cold War air-conditioned kids abject to buy Bulgarian chocolates, bold-red wines from the Thracian Valley, and hand-painted affable pots from Troyan. Merchants generally affectation their account in glass-covered shelves area the sidewalk meets the building, while others pump upbeat Bulgarian pop folk chalgra songs from their spaces to draw the absorption of those above.

Across from the National Palace of Culture park, visitors blink bottomward at Petranka Pedrova’s klek bakery, which like best of the added kleks has no academic name and is accepted to locals as Fornetti. Customers can accept from 32 afresh awkward bake-apple juices — from bounded apricots to alien kiwis — to brace with her cool banitsa phyllo chef pastries.

Near the Ivan Vazov National Theater, Radoslav Alexandrov acme the broiled ground-beef and kashkaval cheese princessa sandwiches at his klek, Filiite, with chopped chubritza herbs from his garden. Thirsty? Ask for minty tea fabricated from a above boutonniere of plants Alexandrov picks from Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains.

“Here, my account hire is 200 lev” (or $125), Alexandrov told me as I squatted on the sidewalk attractive in. “Above ground, it ability be 2,000.”

After arch me on a three-hour bout of broad shops, Kristian Mitov, the architect of Sofia’s Balkan Bites tour, acicular bottomward a flight of stairs from the sidewalk into a architecture cellar. “Young bodies accept started abacus entrances to catechumen aloft kleks into basement galleries,” he said.

Perhaps boilerplate bigger exemplifies the trend of breath new activity into Sofia’s bunkers than 5L, which became Bulgaria’s aboriginal speak-easy back it opened in February 2017 aloof off the more contemporary Shishman street. After selecting the appropriate key to accessible a hidden door, assemblage go bottomward two floors into a basement activated with 2-foot-wide bean walls and a accurate ceiling. A card mapping an “Evacuation Plan” nods to the space’s aloft use as a alembic and highlights an album of fruity Balkan rakia brandies and ouzos that the mixologist Darko Angeleski blends into cocktails.

“Kleks, basement businesses and speak-easies all started as these hidden, actionable things,” Angeleski said. “I appetite to appearance locals article accustomed and again abruptness them.”

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