Saturday, October 07, 2017

Uzbekistan: Tales from the Bar: Elvis Bar

It was our first weekend in Uzbekistan, so when a colleague invited Eitan and me for a drink, we were more than happy to accept.  We were heading to Elvis Bar for some live music.

From Tulepo to Tashkent

Elvis Bar is a modest establishment, but, already aware of this fact, our friends had reserved a table.  A few other people joined once we arrived, and we ended up with a party of six.

Eitan and I ordered vodka sodas, and our friends, whisky cokes, and soon enough the band set up and began their show.

The band was a trio, and the lead singer, with his falsetto vocals and wide range, was well suited to cover musicians like Radiohead, Cold Play, and Robbie Williams.

In such an intimate venue, we were only a few meters from the band, and it struck me how the performers seemed to avoid eye contact.  The lead singer spent much of the time with his eyes closed or looking down, and the other two seemed to prefer staring off into space.

I'm told much of the Elvis artwork was acquired at a U.S. Embassy auction.

The performance went on for quite a while, and our focus on the music waxed and waned.  There was plenty of chatting at the table, some hearty laughs, numerous drink refills, and random bits of food appearing, usually inspired by something we saw on a neighboring table.

Our group also spent a lot of time on door duty.  The bar's main door fit snugly (overly so, it would seem) into the door jamb, and getting it closed required a strong tug (or a push from the opposite side).  Without fail, person after person would walk outside, lightly pulling the door behind him as he exited the room.  And without fail, the door would pop open, exposing us to a draft.

Often times, someone at my table would shout out some helpful advice - "Close the damn door!" or a variation thereof - but it would generally go unheeded.  As such, one of us had to get up every two or three minutes to handle it, and naturally, this was a bit of a nuisance.

When the band eventually finished, they packed up their gear and the bartender turned on some Top 40 hits.  Then something interesting happened at the door for a change.

Two Uzbek men, clearly intoxicated, got into a scuffle.  The less drunk of the two was trying to force the other one out of the bar, so we had a front-row seat to some aggressive pushing.

It didn't take long for the security guard to intervene, but his response was not what I expected.  In most places around the world, a bouncer would have, well, bounced these two guys.  Or he would have at least thrown out one of them to end the drama.

In this case, the guard did the opposite.  He locked the door and counseled the guys until things calmed down.

The discussion was just out of earshot, and in a language I don't understand, but I like to think it started with a classic Simpsons' line, "Let's stop the fussin' and a-feudin'."

Whatever was said, the three guys eventually came to an understanding.

Like I said, this was not what I expected to happen.

"What gives?" I asked my friends.

As explained to me, if the guard had ejected the men and they continued fighting outside and created a disturbance, it could have potentially attracted the attention of the police.  If that happened, the police could close the whole establishment for promoting unruly behavior.  Thus, to avoid this fate, the guard played the role of peacemaker.

We got the check not long after the fight broke up, and I had my first Uzbek sticker-shock moment.  The bill came to 1.5 million soum.  That's about $180, which is totally reasonable for six people drinking and eating for five hours, but all the zeros on the receipt were shocking at first glance.

We scraped together enough to pay, and when we left the bar, I made sure to pull the door completely shut.

As we stood on the curb trying to hail a taxi, a friendly group of drunk Brits showed up from another bar, also in search of a taxi.  They found a ride before we did, and as one chap in the group fell particularly ungracefully into the back seat, he implored us to join him at some club I had never heard of.  I wouldn't be surprised if he had extended the same invitation to the lamp post.

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