Last night was one of the more surreal I've had so far here in Skopje, and that's really saying quite a bit. I spent most of the evening at the Skopje Wine Festival, meeting various members of the Peace Corps who work for NGOs and teach English in the villages around Macedonia.
A few of the group thought it would be a grand idea to show the rest of us a place called "Studio Pub", which they described as a velvet-covered basement mafia hangout. Now, I mistakenly assumed this was an exaggeration. I've been to a few bars around Skopje, and there is usually a clustered group of mean-looking, Armani-clad whom that I assume are members of some sort of organized criminal group. I figured that this was the extent of the mob affiliation of Studio Pub.
I was horribly mistaken.
After wandering off the main street, through a parking lot, and then down a back alley that was seemingly in the middle of a forest (this is in Skopje, mind you), the group leaders stopped in front of what looked like a warehouse, with a bit of light leaking out below two metal doors. "STUDIO PUB" was spray painted in tiny black letters (military M*A*S*H style) on the concrete blocks above the door. I have no idea how they ever found it, given the state of sobriety they were all in.
We opened up the doors, which lead to a long stairway. There were three middle-aged, very confused tough-guys in suits at the bottom, wondering why a loud group of idiotic Americans were heading down the stairs. I shared their confusion.
Aside from the three door guards, the only people in the wood-paneled, red velvet clad barroom were the bartender and a male-female duo playing Eric Clapton covers. If anyone can explain to me why everywhere I have gone in Macedonia has a live band playing Eric Clapton, I would love to know.
So we ordered our drinks and I sat there, bewildered, while everybody else continued having a good time. I finished my drink quickly, left a large tip, and got the hell out of there as quickly as I could. It's not that I felt I was in any danger, or that the other Armani-clad Macedonians that eventually entered the pub were staring at us in a menacing way. And I think it was worth it, just for the experience.
But an underground, velvet-clad Macedonian Mafia hangout really is a long way from Indiana, and I think I should probably work my way up to it.