Nil by Mouth, Fluids Only

Pivnaya Apteka, Bar and Restaurant

Port Baku Residency, PBR Mall, 153 Neftchilar Avenue, Baku

Tel.: (012) 404 8218                 www.saffron.az

How tedious is February? Boring, bleak and ages away from Christmas holiday fun and more ages to go yet, till we can all gambol about in the spring sunshine like frisky little lambs. It makes you want to hit the gin, doesn’t it? Well, at least, metaphorically. Personally, I’m more of a wine woman but on some days it really doesn’t matter, so long as it’s got alcohol in it, it’ll do! Bring on the chocolate liqueurs! Fortunately, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, a pharmacy that will provide just the right medication for your February Baku Blues. Yes, you’ve read that right, a pharmacy, an apteka, located in the Baku Residency, right beside the Green Car Garage,  just along from the Port Baku Mall, and conveniently open in the evenings. Okay, so it’s a ‘beer pharmacy’, a Pivnaya Apteka, but let’s not split hairs, it offers what the doctor’s wife ordered, so it’s got to be a good thing! Lookswise, the Apteka puts pretty much all other bars in Baku into the shade (excepting Buddha Bar, perhaps, which is different but on a par). It’s seriously hip, seriously urban, popping with street cred.

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The concept has, of course, been well and truly done, most notably by British artist Damien Hirst in his London restaurant ‘Pharmacy’, which opened in 1998 and faded out in 2003, a victim of its own trendiness. Medicine cabinets, molecular sculptures, aspirin shaped bar stools, rotting animals in formaldehyde in an almost laboratory style environment with added skulls and snake entwined martini glasses drew in the hipsters until they got bored with it and moved on. 17 years ago this was truly revolutionary and caused quite a stir among the conventional starched tablecloth and velvet curtain restaurant brigade. These days and here in Baku, this kind of presentation may have lost its shock value but it still makes for an edgy and refreshing change from the run of the mill watering holes.

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The decoration at Pivnaya Apteka is ironic and surreal. A pretend TV screen depicting an upside down Bart Simpson, a cocktail chair and table grouping with carpet attached on the ceiling, giant sea monster chairs , skull shot glasses and bottles, nonsense molecular sequences, pharmaceutical glassware lining the walls, waiters in lab coats, a ‘Prescriptions’ menu interspersed with Xray images of hands, skulls and small creepy kind of animals, a hospital machine trolley requisitioned as the DJ booth, it’s weird, wonderful and quite trippy in an Alice through the Looking Glass kind of way. Most of all, it’s not brown, it’s not serious, it’s not provincial and the well-stocked bar with every conceivable drop of colourful alcohol behind it, offers solace against all that is.

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It’s not a big venue, either. The entrance, narrowed by a curiosities cabinet, suggests future door policies and possible queuing but then you’re in to the compact dining area with its lime green semi circular banquettes around group sized tables, beyond which is the bar. Muted lighting and super cool tunes set the tone. This is one perfect drinking den!

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Those of us who have ever had the displeasure of spending some time in hospital will remember that the food almost always leaves a lot to be desired. This is exactly where we find the fly in the ointment at Apteka and I don’t think this is supposed to be part of the authentic experience. The ‘Prescriptions’ menu, basically a tempting sounding bar snack menu, offers the same fare throughout Apteka. With hindsight, it may have been wiser to order burgers or steak which these type of places often do quite well but instead, we chose crispy calamari with chilli and tartar sauce and Dushbere, Azeri lamb stuffed deep fried tortellini, with tomato salsa and lemon aioli. The calamari were not crispy at all, not really hot, a little greasy and rubbery and rather thick cut, with the chilli sauce quite sickly sweet. The Dushbere were crispy and deep fried but not really tasty or well spiced. The accompanying deep fried pastry basket which served as a small salad container was beyond greasy and actually tasted rancid. Eating here is by no means a completely traumatic experience akin to contracting ebola but let’s just say, it’s not going to do much for your cholesterol levels or your taste buds, so next time I’ll grab a bite in any one of the restaurants in Port Baku and then carry on my evening at Apteka. There’s no pudding to be had at Apteka. I guess they concur with Hemingway who said ’Any man who eats dessert is not drinking enough’. Too right, crack open the Baileys!!

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The bill came in a kidney dish and was AZN 37.80 for two including two glasses of white wine and one of beer and 5% service charge which, had the food been nice, would have been very good value.

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Three things remain to be said. Firstly, we visited Pivnaya Apteka a day after its official opening, so maybe it was still finding its feet kitchenwise. Secondly, their English website entry was also clearly written by someone well lubricated. It is quite hilarious and well worth reading! Thirdly, I am not really a lush who knocks back the booze, nor would I encourage anyone to drink excessively. It takes only one drink to get me loaded. The trouble is, I can’t remember whether it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth. (George Burns). Only joking! Chin, Chin! Bottoms up!

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