Birgit Podelsky

Red Emperor Hostel

The effort behind simplicity. Lessons for running a successful hostel.

Red Emperor hostel & bar is all about cool vibes. The backpacker friendly atmosphere with its graffiti walls and pool tables appeases the mind and makes you switch to vacation mode. The funky airplane seats in the bar area fill up in the evenings with travellers sharing their most wild stories. Some exaggerated some not. The hostel area however doesn´t boast with any exuberant luxury, but rather has everything one needs for a clean and simple stay.

The laid-back hostel manager Luke grew up in a South African farm and has now tied itself to Tallinn for the long haul. He has travelled and worked in hostels all around the world and was recruited by chance to a hostel in Tallinn back in 2011. There he met an Australian guy Graig and the mutual interest for hostel business led these two to setting up their own place here.

"The bar area was set up first, which was a pool hall before. But we built the hostel area from scratch," Luke recalls the beginning of Red Emperor. "I grew up in a farm, where you had to manage everything yourself, you didn´t order someone to fix something for you. Graig had worked in construction before so we both had some experience in building."

The easy-going and casual atmosphere in this top-rated hostel and popular bar, is a result of many years of consistent work effort. “I´ll be honest, it´s been hard fucking work.”Graig is the owner, who´s currently in Australia and Luke manages the everyday activities. "I´m his little minion," Luke describes the allocation.

Red Emperor Hostel Tallinn

So, what makes a good hostel?

Your staff. The people make the place. When someone arrives for a check in and see a miserable person like: "Give me your passport!!" they´re not gonna have a good time. They´re in a foreign country after all, yeah they have Google, but it´s better to have a personal experience and that´s what people will always remember. Besides that, obviously fast WiFi. And cleanliness. Everything else can be very basic. You don´t remember the artwork on the wall, when someone asks for a review later. Rather you remember the first contact when you came in and were offered a free beer.

How many hostels are there in Tallinn and how´s the competition.

There´s actually 28 hostels in Tallinn, which is a lot for a small city. We´re lucky to be top rated. The top ones are all very different. You have the Monk´s Bunk, which is a party hostel. Tabinoya, which is run by a Japanese guy, like really chill, social, cool hostel. And then you also have the boutique, more expensive ones. In the summer these differences don´t really matter, as all the 28 fill up like crazy. It´s more like: "who´s got a bed??" than having competition. ...But in the winter obviously everyone drops their prices. And its hard cause you have to attract people. And that´s when your staff comes in. Doing hostel dinners and just going the extra mile. We have Monday night karaoke, which is very popular. Also open mics, live music, bar quiz, DJ-s etc.

How did you start establishing yourself on the market?

We had the bar already established, which was good. It became popular really fast. We were one of the few alternative bars besides like Levist Väljas. So we got the alternative scene here, which was lucky. And after that we didn´t do a lot of advertising apart from Facebook and booking sites. It was very much word of mouth and also personal advertising. We would go down to Riga and Vilnius, stay at other hostels. Cause that´s the thing, people always go either North or South. We would introduce ourselves and say we have a cool hostel in Tallinn. “So, when you ask people where they are going next and they say Tallinn, just recommend to stay at Red Emperor.” It was when we were much younger and could do that. Now we hire people for that :)

Your recommendations for Estonian bound travellers

I would say spend 3-4 days in Tallinn and then hire a car. Depends on the season of course. But the islands, Pärnu, Narva are worth the visit. Travellers are always surprised by the ease of getting around the place. In Tallinn you can pretty much walk anywhere. The medieval Old Town is always a favourite among travellers.


As a local, I was blown by the fact that we have so many hostels here. But I was even more surprised that they really fill up to the max during the high season. So, a tip from here- book your stay early! Or just come at another time, we have other seasons too you know.

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