Kabul Nightlife: Thriving in Between Suicide Bombs

Kabul's expatriates go out and partake in the manic craziness of the city's bar and restaurant scene in houses reminiscent of America's Prohibition-era speakeasies, behind 20-ft.-tall blast walls and an outer perimeter of armed Afghan security guards. "It's like dancing at the edge of a volcano," explains Anne Seidel, a German architect working for the U.N. in Kabul. The expatriates are a boisterous crowd of young and usually single diplomats, aid workers, journalists, spies and mercenaries — or, as they like to call themselves, "contractors." Most of them earn $100,000 salaries and have money to burn.

When the dust settles, Kabul has hordes of war-zone entrepreneurs who are only too happy to help lighten the wallets of expatriates while providing opportunities to blow off steam. And that has given the Afghan capital a greater variety of restaurants than Delhi, Karachi or Tehran, cities 10 times its size. Kabul offers Thai cuisine as well as Turkish, Balkan, Italian, French and Persian, plus several steakhouses, a martini bar with a DJ and a Mexican cantina with high-stakes poker games. The city boasts dozens of Chinese restaurants, but a few were shut down several years ago when authorities realized that the owners were offering the services of hookers along with the Kung Pao chicken. Tiger prawns, pork loins and French wines are flown in from Dubai. The T-bone steaks come frozen from Australia.

It takes a special entrepreneurial mentality to look at a c... >>>

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