1920’s style drinking in Kabul

What could be better on a Thursday night in Kabul than knocking back a couple of beers with some likeminded men and women?  Thursday being Afghanistan’s Friday and Friday being their Sunday – this is the night most foreigners go out.  But in a ‘dry’ society where does one go for a casual drink with friends? 

A bar of course. 

But a bar unlike few others in the world.  

Reminiscent of a 1920’s Speakeasy establishment, drinking in Kabul is a very private affair behind many guarded doors. 

Picked up on a motorbike by a friend and taken to his bar of choice, navigating carefully around the potholes and avoiding the flooded streets as much as possible thanks to the recent rains.  As its already 9pm and quite dark, I’ve forgone the long skirt over my jeans and feel a little exposed in jeans, a hoodie and my black North Face puffy!  We park outside a non-descript, yet heavily guarded door and are let inside door number one.  Here Travis shakes hands and hugs the guard who asks us to check our weapons.  Not carrying any, we continue down a hallway to door number two.  A knock.   The peekhole door slides open at eye level and immediately shut as the door opens. 

We enter into a large courtyard whose path leads to a bar and a large open area to drink outside.  Here I take off my scarf and stash it into my coat pocket where it can comfortably rest for the remainder of the night.

We go inside the crowded bar, filled with foreign aid workers, photographers, journalists, and a few beefy, thick-necked contractors (hired killers, not house builders).   All nationalities are represented, including Afghan, and it all feels comfortingly familiar – this ex pat existence. Lo and behold, a bar replete with Heineken, Kronenburg, wine, and a enough hard liquor to make one rapidly forget this is illegal here.  Although at $7 a beer I start to wonder who the real criminals are.  To put into context.  Two drinks cost me a little more than the equivalent of lunch for four at the local teahouse.

I am in the wrong line of work!

Several introductions later, Kronenburg in hand, we wander back outside where a large firepit resides and many are escaping the noisy crow inside and taking advantage of a clear night to drink under the stars.   Conversations range from local security measures, assignments and projects, and general story sharing from those who have made this life their own.  Those covering the war here have also done so in many other conflict zones and side conversations on the comparisons of flak jackets and their quality, stories of kidnappings in Columbia, and all around risky endeavors, each lead to yet another, laughter-ridden retelling.   A tension reducing one upmanship that plays out over many more drinks.

Eventually two am rolls around, the crowd has thinned dramatically, but many are still heavy entrenched.  Gloria Estefans’ Conga is playing inside and more than a few are making attempts at a salsa, which serves as entertainment for those of us outside that can watch through the large, floor to ceiling windows.  My charming conversationalist is a Brit, wearing traditional Afghan clothing who claims he is famous for his salsa dancing in his pakora hat and long shalwaar kameez.  Tempted to ask for proof, cameras appear and an impromptu photo shoot by the side of the firepit ensues. 

Two of the thick-necked contractors get into a little scuffle and its time to head home.  Headscarf back on, and we hop onto the motorbike, an incredible moon shines light on the empty streets – so empty I don’t make an effort to reposition my headscarf when it blows off in the wind.  

Bliss.

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