A pub crawl in Albania
Tirana, Albania. Photograph: Getty Images
I like the way you move,” said the barman as he handed me another Birra Korça. We had shunned Checkpoint Charlie and Cheers, and walked straight past Nouvelle Vague and the very post-Stalinist Hemingway’s.
The more we drank, the closer we seemed to get to repressive, anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist times.
We had a couple in the Svejk beer garden before finding ourselves behind former communist leader Enver Hoxha’s old house in the formerly exclusive apparatchik neighbourhood of Blokku.
Once the home of party officials and the despised Sigurimi secret police, it opened to the public in 1991 and is now the centre of nightlife in Tirana, the capital of Albania.
After a quick two in the Revolving SkyBar on Deshmoret e 4 Shkurtit, where it became easier for me to revolve than pronounce its address, we ended up on the dance floor of the Lizard.
Already it was so late, it was early.
I was there to party with my friend Iain and his new wife, Tirana-born Alba. It was both a stag do and a reception. As presents, I had been asked for Darjeeling and English Breakfast tea , some rechargeable size-C batteries, a bottle of Oil of Olay and some Clearasil.
It was a party I couldn’t miss. I used to share a house with Iain Wilson in London. Now he calls himself Wilson-Dakoli which, he admits, makes him sound rather like the front man of a second-rate soul music tribute band. He met his wife in Galway where they studied, and he proposed to her in Budapest. They have lived in Albania for 10 years.
Appropriately, we ended the night with a digestif at the Piccadilly London Bar, complete with red telephone boxes and Union Jack tables. Luckily, we missed last orders at the bar at the national football stadium. The bar was still open. But the barman was out cold.
The next day we drove , shakily because of the road surfaces and our hangovers, to the Bunker Bar at Blerinmaj near Kavaja. Starting in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, fearing invasion by Nato or the Soviets, the dictator and former tobacconist Enver Hoxha built 750,000 mushroom-shaped bunkers.
They were meant to repel westerners. Now they attract them. Many have been turned into B&Bs, tourist information centres, gift shops, clubs and bars.
On the pillbox bar’s beach terrace, cradling a hair of the dog, I learn that Albania is often called Shqipëri, meaning “eagles’ country”, and that it has been coveted by the Serbs since the 13th century. It has, one time or another, been a Byzantine dependency, an Ottoman trading post, an Italian province and seat of an Italian puppet government, a Russian military outpost and a Yugoslavian satellite. As well as the domain of a brutal communist regime for 40 years.
Then we turned to the bunkers.
“They got the engineers who built the bunkers to sit in them,” Wilson-Dakoli explains with a straight face. “They dropped bombs on them and shelled them to test them. The ones that the engineers came out of alive were earmarked for politicians, functionaries and high-ranking party officials.”
He sees my frown. “It’s true. Albania has some of the very best engineers and builders in the world. And the deafest.”
See albania-holidays.com and albania.al