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The Best Bar In Baghdad Print

By Colin Freeman - Jun 1, 2006

We'll call it O'Malley's. I won't tell you its real name. Not that I wouldn't want your company if you happened to be in town. But mentioning its name in print might get it blown up.Bartending is something of a minority occupation in Baghdad these days. Saddam banned public drinking during his "faith campaign" of the mid-1990s, and since his fall, very few of the bars and clubs that once made the city a social playground have reopened.

The U. S.–guarded Green Zone has hosted several bars, including a CIA-run place with a dance floor, a British Embassy "pub," and a "trailer tavern" for contractors. But outside of the zone, your choice is limited to hotel bars in secured compounds. O'Malley's is one of these places.

The policy at the door is strict. After you get through the blast walls and armed guards, you have to check your weapons and your phone if it has a camera. Then it's a quick metal-detector scan and a pat down.

A narrow corridor leads into a small, cellar-like room hosting a motley Western and Arab clientele. The Westerners with the muscles are security contractors. The ones without are probably journalists. And the others? Well, I've never asked.

The beer is Heineken or Amstel. There's a dedicated wine waiter who lords over exactly one choice of wine at any given time. That wine is Mr. Bonjour more often than not. It has a picture of a beret-wearing Frenchman on the bottle, presumably to remind you it's not vinegar.

Still, make the best of the drinking, because there aren't many other thrills on offer. The male-female ratio is twenty to one on a good night. Otherwise, the only entertainment is outdoing the other patrons with tales of near-death experiences. Many's the night I've recounted getting a bullet in my ass from a Shia militiaman in Basra. Many's the night when my story's been trumped by something scarier.

Nonetheless, as long as it's the only place I can go without getting kidnapped, beheaded, mortared, shot (again)—can I stop now? Mine's the Mr. Bonjour. 

 
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