The only bar in the Green Zone sounds like a hell of a place to run, but as a destination outside a war zone it seems like it would be nothing special. Fortunately for business, the scarcity of its product and the "siege mentality" of its clientele inside the Green Zone made it a huge success for a very risk-tolerant guy. It's closed now, but the Baghdad Country Club once provided the only booze, cigars, and accompanying relaxation to workers in the Green Zone, operating at the height of the insurgency in 2006 and 2007. Josh Bearman just published an e-book about it at The Atavist that has been excerpted over at the TheAtlantic.com, and spoke to Wired's Spencer Ackerman. He talked about the random airport meeting that led the owner, James, to start the bar, and about James's solo trips through Baghdad to stock it. Bearman never went to the bar, so he doesn't have first-hand details of what it was like there. But those can be gleaned from the various features, reviews, and interviews that mentioned the Baghdad Country Club at the height of its popularity.
You can meet James in this video from The Atavist:
That's a great backstory, but what about the bar itself? Thanks to the Internet, there are details to be had.
The crowd: Soldiers and other U.S. military personnel weren't supposed to drink (though some showed up anyway), so the crowd was mostly civilian. And it was as mixed as the Green Zone itself. Bearman writes in The Atlantic, "Anyone -- mercenaries and diplomats, contractors and peacekeepers, aid workers and Iraqis -- could walk in, get dinner, open a decent bottle of Bordeaux, and light a cigar from the humidor to go with it." Time reporter Yuri Kozyrev took a visit there in 2007. "On a clear April night, the white plastic tables in the garden fill up with an assortment of Green Zone archetypes: broad-shouldered security contractors walk in with dates in tight tops and high heels; a handful of diplomats mingle in blazers; a construction worker wearing a fishing vest that reads BAGHDADDY meets his friends at the end of a 12-hour shift." James told an interviewer from Bidoun, "I’d say 30 percent were Iraqi, including ministers and high-ranking generals in the army."
The music: Bearman does share some details about the tunes with Ackerman. They played an iPod through a speaker attachment and banned Men at Work "because Aussie security contractors would go apeshit when Men At Work came on." Then there's the live acts: "Contractors who were over there a long time would bring instruments and musical equipment. There would be jammy, crappy cover bands. The Aegis guys would play the Kinks. The Blackwater dudes would play Nickelback. There was a strong cultural difference in what mercenaries were into, musically speaking."
The service: Heidi the bartender "wins high marks" despite gripes about the bar and restaurant menu's spotty availability, Bidoun reported. But the highly dangerous supply chain meant it didn't always achieve its fine-dining aspirations. "Some disgruntled customers denounced the club as nothing but a “sleazy place for mercenaries and rednecks.” Others complained that the kitchen was usually out of the Euro-Arab fusion dishes advertised on the online menu; that the service was poor; and that the tables were set with paper towels instead of napkins." But Bearman explains in The Atlantic that James had little patience for complaints:
"People could get killed for your fucking Corona Light," he'd tell people at the bar. One day, a contractor suggested to James that he could get beer cheaper himself. "Oh sure," James said. "Go ahead and drive to Sadr City. See if you can find the warehouse. Make sure you're armored and locked and loaded, because if anyone sees you, you're fucking done, mate."
The atmosphere: The bar's website is gone but Bidoun quotes its ambitious descriptions: " 'If James Bond were to walk off the pages of a book,” the bar’s website suggested, 'if Hemingway was again reporting on the world’s troubles, they could probably both be found relaxing over a drink at the Baghdad Country Club.' " In reality, the patio furniture was mostly plastic, amid the gravel courtyard. But the review site Hangover Guide has a much more sparkling description of the "secured gardens or ... the main restaurant adorned with mahogany walls and a clean and simple décor.
The menus: Hangover Guide has a description that sounds like it came off the Baghdad Country Club's own website: "The menu is a fusion of European and Arabic cuisine and the extensive wine list boasts such classics as vintage Margaux and Chablis through to Australian Shiraz, Chilean Cabernet and Californian Zinfandel. All of which can naturally be enjoyed with a choice of Cuban cigars from our walk in humidor." But aside from vague mentions of "fresh cuts of beef" in Time, as well as the description of Heidi the bartender doing shots, we've got nothing to corroborate or refute that. you may have to buy Bearman's book.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.