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Raising the bar in central Siberia


Sometimes as a traveler you come across a gem of a place the kind of a place where t seems anything can happen, and anybody could appear. I came across just this place in Novosibirsk in the centre of Siberia. I have been in the city for seven months, and as you might expect, the predominating options for those who want to go out compose of approximately seven of the same type of club, full of scary bald men, their teenage girlfriends, and a mix of pumping tinny house, and horrific pumping tinny house. These places are generally unconducive to human existence, and a vast quantity of inebriation fluid should be consumed before, and after entry.

However, located off the main street of Krasny Prospect, is the most unlikely bar. Set in a basement it has a capacity of maybe 40 people, all seated. On entry the quirky nature of the place is easily apparent, as a more that averagely friendly bouncer casually searches you, while you can’t take your eyes off his bizarre beard. At first sight it may seem that Gandalf was bored of the publicity and celebrity that came with the fall of Mordor, and took up more casual residence as a bouncer (you would be wrong). On descent into the basement, a relatively arty feel can be detected, as you are flanked by pictures of the jazz greats, whilst the dim lighting and faded carpet do a good job on their own of creating a friendly atmosphere. Round the corner and through a strangely placed, and its even more strangely old fashioned European décor (which one can be forgiven for thinking comes straight from a 1920s society lady’s boudoir), stands the main area of the bar. Generally in the shape of a c, the bar stands in the centre, and a small stage in the corner. Around the walls are a peculiar collection of smashed mobile phones, pipes, and various alcoholic memorabilia. This in conjunction with the soft lighting, wooden floors and bare brick walls make one feel confusingly at home, comfortable and with an air of expectation all at the same time. Early in a night a trip to the toilets, in one stall tells a photographic story of nights of the past, with a collection of powerful photos on the wall, whilst in the other can be found world currency. A fine testament to the clientele can be found, in some written instructions, first telling you assist fully to look to the left, where the second instruction will tell you that the right is what needs to be investigated. On the right, you can almost hear the laughter of the drunk Russian who wrote this, as the wall tells you to concentrate on what you’re doing.<!page–>

The nights that take place here serve as a welcome respite from the thumping fun of the other options. An intelligent, artistic atmosphere generally pervades the place and the people, and usually the programme will include live music early on, (depending on the day the styles will vary and if you want something special it is advisable to check ahead), or occasionally a lecture from one of the Russian intelligencia (normally on a Wednesday.) There is normally a nominal entrance fee for the live music, about $6, but the groups are normally of a very good standard, and for the music alone this is a fair sacrifice. After about 12 o’clock the live music finishes, and there is no more entrance fee. The drinking will then continue indefinitely, with a range of weird and wonderful people periodically entering the bar.

The food is excellent, with an eclectic mix of old fashioned Russian dishes, (I particularly advise the Borsch) and more modern offerings from Europe and America. And the drinks are equally varied, including the staples such as a range of beers and all the sprits. To win some friends here it is advisable to drink vodka, this will be smiled upon, and undoubtedly seen as a sign of wanting to experience Russian culture, a cliché it may be, but works it does. In fact, n any Russian bar, this is the most advisable course of action. <!page–>

All of the above essentially set the scene, like props in a play. For what really makes this bar, is the mix of interesting people, their differing levels of Russianness and the undeniably random events they simultaneously cause and are effected by. During the music, the bar is always packed, there’s always a genial, friendly atmosphere and the shouting often suggests the artists have friends in the audience, but in fact is a testament to the upbeat atmosphere. The place conjures up the modern version of a Viking celebration feast. A brief look around will reveal all manner of people. From the old men playing backgammon and reading from Marx in the corner with some students, sitting next to the table of disorientingly beautiful girls, to a table of middle aged mobsters (they will tell you this, and can be strangely persuasive for people with one syllable vocabularies) . All of these people are eminently approachable, and will through the course of the evening, all end up steaming drunk. However, it is after the music, which finishes at approximately 12, when the real fun starts. The duller will leave, and the remainders are sure to excite. An open attitude is a must, and a certain alcohol tolerance, outside the normal western cliché is encouraged. On different occasions in this bar, whilst out with a range from Russian musicians to American English Teachers, we have met former Boxing masters of the Soviet Union, to the biggest stars of Russian Pop, to members of the Special Forces. All of whom seem to lose the airs they may carry on the street, and courtesy of this amazing place, give you a view into a myriad of different worlds. Bear in mind the isolation of Siberian cities, and the toughness of the people, has bred an unforgiving environment and attitude it is rare to rise above, and this is truly a miracle of existence. Continuing the night with your new friends is a must, and will provide you, not only with a master class in the art of vodka drinking, but a bizarre outcome. For example, practicing roundhouse kicks with an exponent of K2 (worldwide mixed martial arts) in the middle of the bar on one occasion. On another, attempting to sell all our passports for more vodka.

In summary, there are places that exist that literally defy belief. They turn the unfriendlest into a brother, and unite the most unlikely of people. This is the kind of place that could only exist in the land of extremes, the kind of place where at one time, a well told anecdote can win you free beer from a friendly barman, and you can meet the coldest members of society and have no hesitation of talking to them. In a very misunderstood and often feared country, this bar offers a clear sight into the best Russian character has to offer. 

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