Bar Hopping in Baku for Dummies
Bar Hopping in Baku for Dummies Reviews
Sep 07, 2007
When I was in Naxcivan, women were not permitted to go into bars so I quit drinking. I mean what was the point? I think that 95% of the times I have been drunk was in somehow related to women in either trying to summon the courage through liquid bravado to talk to someone completely out of my league or wallow in some pathetic foray of trying to convince myself I needed to forget one of several what’s-her-names. Once someone took women out of the equation, my urge to drink quickly subsided.
Well, now that I am in Baku, a city where women are not only allowed into pubs but are allowed to work there too, I have naturally gravitated to partaking in a few beverages. Most places are open into the wee hours of the morning. I tend to stick to the places closer to where I live because if I drink too much I don’t get lost as easily. Plus, there are less street crossings and that momentary lapse of sane reasoning due to being inebriated (e.g. that Baku driver will actually stop as I cross the street) is less life-threatening. In addition to this, all of these places are down hill from me and it is harder to fall over when you are walking up a hill (although I have done it several times), so it is safer when you really look at it.
The past few weeks I have suffered from vertigo but once the dizziness subsided I decided to hit some of the places close to where I live to have a few drinks and become dizzy once again. I know it sounds illogical, but it made perfect sense when I decided to do it.
There are several different types of adult beverage establishments here and I will try to highlight the general types of venues in this review. Individual ones will be highlight in later reviews. This is just to give some insight for those future travelers who care to venture into Baku, Azerbaijan.
Quick Vocabulary Lesson
The word for beer in Azeri is “piva.” It is pronounced pee-VA. The way I remembered it was beer will make you pee and the third person of the “to go” verb in Spanish is va. It is also similar to the Chinese word for beer “peejo” (I am not for sure about the spelling of that one).
To order one beer, it is “bir piva,” pronounced “beer pee-VA.” Very easy to remember. I may not know how to ask for directions yet in Azeri, but I know how to order beer. It is obvious that I have priorities straight.
Almost anywhere you go in the world you can find an ex-pat bar somewhere. Baku has several. For the most part, most here are of the UK variety. The main ones are Tequila Junction and O’Malley’s, which are next to each other close to Fountain Square. A really good Scottish pub is Dolls, which is really close to where I live.
Pros: Almost everyone there speaks some Western language, namely English; very friendly staffs; western sports on the tube (namely soccer (football for the rest of the world), rugby, and cricket); very safe; western food; and all genders welcomed.
Cons: Usually more expensive than other places especially for quality drafts and mixed drinks.
There are quite a few quaint Azeri/Russian Cafes and Pubs throughout Baku. The Cafes are good for some late night eats and a beer or two. Azeri pubs seem to have been designed by the same person with wooden tables, wooden benches and very non-descript decor.
Pros: Cheap draft and usually good food; meeting some of the locals; the quirkiness of living in another country becomes more evident in the pubs. Where else can you experience a drunken Azeri businessman mangle a karaoke version of “Candle in the Wind” done in Russian?
Cons: Some of the pubs are very cold towards foreigners; women usually do not go into Azeri pubs alone or even in groups, although they are welcomed in most cafes; the need to know Azerbaijani or Russian becomes more evident in these areas. I usually just point at something on the menu and hope that it is good.
It seems that all of the nightclubs here cater to the dancing crowd. I am in search for some dive that has some punk rock band playing three cords on badly tuned instruments with a singer who screams more than he sings, but no such luck yet. What is an aging punk rocker to do?
I have yet to venture into any of the ex-pat nightclubs that seem to be located around Fountain Square and any of the expensive hotels. Most of the Azeri nightclubs are usually under a building. I have walked by several close to my apartment and never knew they were there until recently.
Pros: The opportunity to get your groove on, if that is what you are into; reasonably priced bottled beer; meeting the locals; and occasionally catching some Azeri break-dancers!
Cons: Not the safest place to be; bargirls; occasionally hostilities towards foreigners.
Women should not go to clubs/bars alone. Oftentimes, even in groups women in clubs are often believed to be working in the world’s oldest profession and I do not mean farming. The safest thing to do is to go in with a group and to take a taxi when traveling Baku at night.
If at all possible, drink only bottled beer that is opened in front of you. This warning generally does not apply to ex-pat bars but is especially true in nightclubs. I have met people who have told me personal experiences of getting drinks laced with drugs and ending up in the middle of nowhere with no money. If someone offers you a drink that is already prepared, politely refused. Just tell them that you have work or a meeting or a plane to catch the next day and cannot drink anymore.
Guys, if you look like Andy Rooney and that woman who seems totally fascinated by you looks like Angelina Jolie and that was before you started drinking, chances are she is a bargirl. While Baku is quickly becoming a modern big city, there is still an underlining current of Islamic beliefs albeit relaxed. Most single women here have curfews even if they are not living with their parents. If you are interesting in meeting a nice local Azeri person, hang out close to one of the universities.
Finally, a word on bargirls. As mentioned earlier, Baku, while modern, has an undercurrent of basic Islamic beliefs, which mold its societal norms. Many of the bargirls are single mother who had children out of wedlock. For many families here, a daughter who has sex before marriage is believed to bring dishonor and shame to the family. Most of these girls are disowned by their kin and are labeled “harlots.” Being as such, one of their options to make money to support their children is being a bargirl. The other option is begging for money on the street. Hiring practices here are not always ethical from a Western perspective. While it is easy to pass judgment on them, many have tragic stories to tell. They are human after all. I am not saying invite them into your homes and hang out with them, just be nice. (The self-righteous lecture has ended.)
Part of the An American in Azerbaijan travel blog
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