Putin and Obama Both Have Bars in This Central Asian City

Putin Pub - a bar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Formerly part of the Soviet empire, home of the plague, dead-goat-carcass-polo, and possibly cannabis, the ‘burbs of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, is now home to Putin Pub – a very Vlad’ themed bar. It’s a bit like Cheers – a place where everyone knows your name. Russian secret service monitoring may have something to do with that, I’m really not sure, nor am I too inclined to investigate, the FSB really doesn’t mess about. In any case, after 821 days on the road, as I’m here in the unknown capital city of an unknown central Asian nation, I had to see Putin Pub for myself. So, I left my cell phone and identification papers back at the hotel, donned a fake mustache, filed away my fingerprints, and headed out for a cash-only night at Putin Pub. I figured that any hangovers could be cured by a visit to nearby Obama Bar and Grill, for a greasy American breakfast. Please keep in mind, I’m not making any of this up.

Kyrgyzstan is a country full of love for Putin. Recently, a poll revealed that 90 percent of Kyrgyz locals expressed either a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence in the democratically elected Russian president. For geopolitical rival Obama, the result was only 26%. Fortunately, a result not low enough to prevent Obama Bar and Grill from doing a roaring trade in Bishkek, fanning the flames of a new cold-war… of alcohol and spicy Buffalo wings. In 2012, the Kyrgyzstan president, speaking of the “special love” his people have for the Russian leader, sponsored a bill to name a mountain after Putin. It’s right next to Mount Boris Yeltzen. On a personal note, typing this paragraph is actually hurting my brain.

Politics aside, Putin Pub is a great bar. Beer is served in huge 900ml glass jars. Not those little faux-recycled jam jars from your local hipster joint, these are suitably serious alcohol servings, with a three litre option available for every beer. The presidential-themed bar has Vlad’s face plastered on the jars, walls, ceiling, in the toilets, and behind the stage. On a Monday night, a perfectly 1980’s-esque crowd, the type that only exists in the former Soviet nation, Eastern Europe, and re-runs of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was cutting loose in a mesmerising blend of tight dresses and flannelette shirts, singing and dancing to the unique sounds of  “MaCho Band“, a really good live band.

The cheekily named “Crimea is Ours” cocktail was flying off the Putin Pub shelves. I admired the interior design – non-surprisingly post-Soviet nouveau riche, dark, and full of Putin. Expats, zero, tourists, zero. Surrealness, off the scale. Hipsters of Berlin and Brooklyn take note, you’ve been well and truly upstaged in the ironic stakes.

 

Putin Pub - dancefloor in front of the bar
Radical. The 80’s never died at this bar. And that’s a very good thing. Putin Pub, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
free beer at putin bar pub in bishkek kyrgyzstan
Free. Beer. Reading their target demographic like pro’s. A collection of flyers at Putin Pub, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
themed putin bar pub
Putin’s face. It’s e everywhere. Putin Pub in Bishkek.
artwork putin pub
The bar features many, many, many, Vlad themed artworks. Putin Pub, Bishkek.
Live music at Putib Pub and Bar, Bishkek
He rocked that piano accordion. “MaCho Band”, Putin Pub, Bishkek.
 Putin Pub, Bishkek.
Pro photo tips: aperture, don’t know. Shutter speed, don’t know. ISO, flash, nope. Time of night – late. Alcohol consumed, much. Saying goodbye to security at Putin Pub, Bishkek.
drinking at Putin Pub.
Pro Photo tip: rusty old poles will make a great tripod. And, take your photos *prior* to drinking at Putin Pub.
bishkek obama bar restaurant address
Obama Bar and Grill. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Ideal breakfast location, after a big night out at Putin Pub.
obama bar and grill menu bishkek
Obama’s face. It’s everywhere. Cigarette menu not pictured. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Obama Bar and Grill, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Pro photo tips: lazing down into your seat with a hangover, makes for a not so great photo. Obama Bar and Grill. Info: the map below shows the address of Putin Pub in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article

 

The mysterious Putin Pub owner has said he’s not a “Putinist”, and backing this up, the bar is easier to see as satire, rather than praise. Drinks on the menu, apart from the Crimea is Ours and a wide selection of Vodka, included a concoction named after Alina Kabaeva, Russian Olympic gymnast and rumored number-one Putin squeeze. Well known oligarch, mathematician, stamp collector, and Putin political foe Boris Berzovsky has his own namesake drink. However, Boris is now deceased. In somewhat unexplained circumstances. Yes, I was shocked too. But, Boris’s name lives on in cocktail form, for as long as Putin Pub remains open. For various reasons, the longevity of the establishment is not guaranteed.

Not everyone is happy about the Putin Pub. Russia’s Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan has promised to do “everything in my power” to “force the end” of Putin Pub, and “liquidate” the bar and it’s owners. My Russian language skills aren’t great, so perhaps take that with a grain of salt. Naturally, there’s a few wowsers who appear to be angry about infringement of copyright, and the unauthorized use of a likeness of Putin. This, in a city that already has a KFC ( Kyrgyz Fried Chicken), a Burger KiИg, and the aforementioned Obama Bar and Grill. Large billboards featuring Putin’s caricature, advertising the opening of Putin Bar, have been officially removed from Bishkek’s city streets. With particularly dark strategy, the billboard featuring Putin was located on downtown “Kiev Street”. Too soon? Yes. Hello Ukraine, thanks for reading.

Like everyone else, including my American drinking buddy, I had a great night at Putin Pub. As planned, the next morning I headed down to Obama Bar and Grill. First order – a Tex Mex styled burrito, a satirical Russian beer or two, and a pack of Camel’s. Notably, smoking is not only permitted at Obama Bar and Grill, it’s encouraged – with low low prices for all your favourite brands, listed right on the menu next to the burrito’s and buffalo wings. However, despite my optimism, things took a turn for the worse. I tried my best to like Obama, and the experience did begin with so much hope and promise. But ultimately, Obama ended up leaving me disappointed. I felt a little ripped off.

Putin Pub may be dark, a little bit crazy, and slightly unpredictable.

But at least I got drunk and had a good time.

None of this article is metaphorical.

Nate

PS, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is unlike any place I have ever seen. I’ve taken more photo’s here than any country since visiting Iran.

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10 thoughts on “Putin and Obama Both Have Bars in This Central Asian City

  1. Great review! Will link to it in my upcoming Bishkek city guide (it’s still a few months off). At Obama’s – the pizza is a better deal, although the overt greasiness is never far away.

    1. Cheers Steven, glad you enjoyed it, and I would love the link. If I head back, I’ll try a Pizza… the wings were pretty good, and they came with a free Baltika 7, so no complaints there!

      1. How much were the wings? Still haven’t made it to Obama’s but free beer with wings sounds like the perfect excuse.

        P.S. I can neither confirm no deny the contents of this post (at least not while living here.)

        1. Eric I’ll just call you “the instigator” from now on ;) ..but seriously, great night out at Putin Pub (of all places)!

          The wings were, I think, about 150 som. Maybe 195.. they may have even been 249? Shit, I can’t quite remember. Came with fries, and a Balitka 7. Not amazing wings, but, not bad!

  2. Nate, I really enjoyed this post (as well as many others I found while exploring here!)

    Having lived for 10 years in Azerbaijan, and travelled extensively through our neighbors in the Caucasus, I can tell you that your observations are spot on!

    I linked my latest post to your blog (and mentioned the “80 hours in Armenia” as well… very fun- I felt like I was there with you (in fact I have been on several of those 80 hour tours!) Read the Wedding General post for more on that.)

    Thanks again. I look forward to reading more as you travel. Be safe… Jonelle

    1. Cheers Gianelli. I use the Fuji X-Pro1 for every photo on this site, with only the 18mm lens (28mm full frame equivalent). It’s the only camera, with the only lens, I have been carrying on the road since July 2012. For a flash, I have a smallish Leica flash, but rarely use it – but taking photos of Putin Bar certainly required a flash!

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