Of Dive Bar Friendships and Drug Busts / by Nasri Atallah

This was originally shared on Facebook, about a year ago. I've edited it slightly for grammar and syntax.

As we're standing outside Torino last night three guys approach us. Two of them are colossal with long blonde ponytails, and the third is shorter and stocky with an emo punk haircut and a broken nose. All three are wearing metal band tees. In what sounds like a nondescript but thick Scandinavian accent, they ask us what the club we're waiting in line for is called. We explain that we're not in line, we're just drinking on the sidewalk outside a dive bar. They say they're very confused and that they've been drinking a lot. To illustrate this one of them waves a bottle of Kassatly Chtaura liqueur in my face and cracks up. I ask him why on Earth anyone would drink liqueur. He pointed at a sticker that said -20% and shouted out "cheap!" as he lifted the bottle and tilted in, gesturing I should take a swig.

Knowing what Kassatly Chtaura liqueur tastes like I politely kept my mouth shut. We start talking, and laughing and as they buy us flowers, we find out that they're actually from Estonia. I ask them if they're traveling with a band or something (they look unmistakably like roadies), but they say that they're on a far more important mission. Intrigued, we ask what this mission is. "To drink in every country in the world!" they scream back in a cackle of laughter.

They've been to 100 countries so far. Correction. They've gotten thoroughly hammered in 100 countries so far. Marty explains that he broke his nose a few days ago falling down some steps while heavily inebriated in Petra. Then he takes out his phone and shouts "Want to see something cool? We got drunk in Kiev last week on Maidan." He starts sliding through the photos of his phone, standing on the scenes of the Kiev protests. Beer in hand. After a few photos we get to the ones he's really excited about. They raided former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich's opulent mansion, along with all the other protestors. And they sat in his jacuzzi. Naked. There is photographic evidence of this (which I can, very sadly, never unsee).

It was one of those encounters that had half the street in stitches. A happy piece of Beirut randomness, that was broken up half an hour later when the police came along and started confiscating rolled-up cigarettes from people outside the bar and opening them up to check for drugs. The cops were sitting in their car and sniffing away ridiculously at the destroyed roll-ups. There was a sense of indignation at the unnecessary rudeness with which they broke up a friendly gathering of people gearing up for a long Easter weekend. One guy approached the car and defiantly started rolling a cigarette in the cops face, saying he just wanted him to see it happening to avoid having to roll another one later. When asked for his ID, he refused and muttered something about the dysfunctional state of affairs in the country and was promptly - and literally - dragged away to the crumbling and decrepit station across the street.

No two encounters could more perfectly illustrate a typical day in Beirut. From laughter and worldliness to violence and hopelessness in an hour. And all of that on the pavement outside a bar on a Thursday night.

Outside Torino Express with some friends. (Photo by legendary Lebanese photographer Tony El Hage)

Outside Torino Express with some friends. (Photo by legendary Lebanese photographer Tony El Hage)