The live band at Promzona

Bishkek Nightclubs: A Guide

Published: December 17, 2018

Introduction

One hot Friday night, a group of fellow students and I made our way to a nightclub. Little did I know I would end up spending each of my subsequent free weekends dancing the night away in various Bishkek nightclubs. They are fun and cheap, so if you go with a group of friends, you’re sure to have a good time. Going to a club also allows you to meet locals. People are more open to conversation and meeting new people in a club than they are on the street, so if you want a way to burst out of the English-speaking bubble, finding a club with a friendly crowd is certainly an option.

Finding the different nightclubs Bishkek has to offer can be difficult. Many clubs are closed, but still show up in Internet searches. This guide ended up being the most helpful when searching for clubs. The author also talks about bars in addition to nightclubs.

Most of the clubs we went to were free for us to enter (clubs want Americans to come because they think we’ll spend a lot of money).

When travelling to and from clubs, marshrutkas are the cheapest option. The Namba taxi app is ideal when returning. Namba has a pickup fee of 50 som (about $0.75), and costs 10 som ($0.14) for each kilometer. There is no cost for extra riders, so the ride can be very cheap when split among friends. There is an app you can download, or you can order the cab online. You need a local number to contact the cab, however, so use the number of someone with a local SIM card or the phone given to you by the school. Namba calls/texts you to let you know there is a cab on its way and to alert you when it arrives. You can also hail a cab outside the club, but it will be much more expensive, especially if you don’t negotiate the price.

The dress code is consistent across clubs. Generally, you don’t want to wear just a t-shirt and shorts. Men usually wear pants and a nice shirt, while women’s wear ranges from dresses and heels to nice tops and jeans. Most of the local women didn’t wear shorts, but it’s not improper to rock shorts with a cute top. Essentially, men should wear pants and nice shirts and women can wear whatever they’d like.

– Daphne Letherer

 

Nil Cafe

Corner of Shopukova and Zhibekzholu (Behind the Bishkek Circus)

This past weekend, I went to one of my favorite weekend haunts, a Tajik-owned place called Nil Café. It was dance time. I needed to forget about my busy academic schedule, my impending plans, and my bad Russian grammar. Nil was the perfect place to do this because it’s cheap, it has a consistently great music selection, there is hookah, and it’s got a relaxing and nonjudgmental vibe. Boom.

The best part of Nil, which is Arabic for “The Nile River,” is that it is not a club, but a café where you can dance. It’s like Rick’s Café from Casablanca, where there are tables surrounding a main central dancing area — only the theme is the Egyptian pyramids, instead of Morocco, and there is a DJ player, instead of Sam the piano player. I much prefer this type of setup because it usually means you don’t have to take yourself too seriously (there is no pressure to have the right look, the right moves, the right attitude), and you don’t feel like you have to dance, dance, dance all night long because there is nothing else to do. Nil has that just-right combination of being able to converse with friends, dance, and even watch live performances of belly dancers and lezginka dancers (lezginka is a Caucasian dance). Come on a Saturday night when Nil is at its busiest, and you can participate in lighthearted games like a women’s scavenger hunt (men, hold on to your clothing items!).

At Nil, expect music from the old Silk Road, or “belly dancing music.” When my friends and I went last Friday, I heard the DJ play Tajik, Persian, Afghan, Uzbek, Russian, Uighur, Turkmen, Hindi, Azerbaijani, Dungan, Turkish, Caucasian, and Pakistani music. There were also a few American songs, but only because the DJ had learned there were Americans in the house (woo!) and did it in our honor. Americans, in fact, are not a regular presence at Nil (and for shame).

As for style of dance, expect to see some of the most graceful and elegant dancers on that dance floor, from both the women and men. It’s all in the hands. As I sat entranced by the women who seemed to float across the dance floor and the men who swayed with the most masculine huzzah, my Afghan friend, who noticed my admiring gaze, explained, “Just think of it as swimming on land.” And I did. People flick those wrists and whirl and twirl those hands through the air in fluid, circling motions as if to stop would be to drown.

It’s also incredibly sensual, in a Bollywood film kind of way. For instance, one of my favorite dances is one that’s done between a boy and girl, where they circle each other, without touching each other, and “check each other out,” while the girl delicately waves her hands around the boy, as he eagerly “pursues” her with his quick-footed movements and eager eyes. Now, how can you resist watching this playful and alluring drama unfold on the dance floor? Judging by the crowd that almost always forms around this mating ritual, many of whom clap their hands in support of this fierce expression of flirtation and competition, not a lot of people can resist.

Neither should you. So get your shimmy on at Nil and (literally) wave those problems away! Don’t be intimidated if you think you can’t dance. Nil is welcoming and friendly. Some of the best parts of the evening will be when you’re pulled into a dance ring, linked with strangers by your pinkies, stepping right and left in some complicated rhythmic footwork, while cheering some happy solo act in the middle. Will you feel clumsy not knowing the steps? Probably. But at the same time, how many times will you be able to be intimately connected with complete strangers in a warm and safe environment? I tell you, not so often at a more formal club, where intimacy is limited to between two people.

So, dear readers, go for a swim at Nil, and let the energizing rhythms and beautiful melodies of the old Silk Road wash over you. In one evening, you may just forget about all your worries.

 – Eirene Busa

Promzona

16 Cholpon-Ata St

When you search for nightclubs in Bishkek, Promzona always pops up. It’s considered one of the best nightclubs in Bishkek, and it’s been around for many years.  We took a cab, which was only about a ten minute drive from the school, and cost 120 som ($1.75) for four of us (resulting in a cost of only 30 som each for the ride). The entrance fee was a little steep, at 450 som (about $6.60) on a Friday night after 11pm. It was the only club where I paid an entrance fee. Promzona is also the smallest of the clubs I attended. The inside is intimate, very dark, and has an industrial theme. There are tables along the left half, a dance floor, and a bar along the right wall. Prices are similar to Metro Pub (see below), with the cheapest shots costing 150 som ($2.20) and mixed drinks ranging from about 250 to 450 som ($3.70-6.60). Promzona usually has a live band that plays rock and pop music, including throwback and modern. The dress was overall casual, but you’ll want to dress up a little bit to fit in. If you’re new to the club scene, or just prefer more lowkey clubs, Promzona is definitely worth checking out. I was only able to go once because they began renovation in the middle of my program.

– Daphne Letherer

Zavod

Yunusaliev Ave

Like Promzona, Zavod is at the top of the list of Bishkek nightclubs. It’s a popular club among  Bishkek locals. You are supposed to be at least 23 years old to enter, but you’re able to get in (and avoid the 300 som cover) by showing up as part of a group of American students. Because of the age control, though, the crowd is older, but when we were there they were very friendly and open to dancing with people outside their group. The dress code is nicer than Promzona, but not formal.

Zavod is located on the top floor of Bishkek Park. It’s south of the school, about a 15 minute marshrutka ride. It has themed events during the week, and the interior is like Promzona, sporting an industrial theme. Whereas Promzona has a more rock ’n’ roll feel, Zavod has booming EDM music, complete with fog and flashing lights.

– Daphne Letherer

Metro Pub

168 Chuy Ave

Metro Pub is easily my favorite nightclub in Bishkek. It didn’t show up as frequently as Promzona and Zavod when I was researching nightclubs, but it is one of the most popular clubs. It has both a large dance floor that plays EDM (electronic dance music) and a more intimate stage with a live band. There is no cover fee, and it is always crowded on the weekends. There are two zones in the club. In the back room, you might feel like you’re dancing in a mansion, while the front of the club sports dark wood and a more hipster feel. It is sort of like a combination of Zavod and Promzona because you can have both the flashing lights, fog, and DJ as well as the live band that plays rock and pop music. Prices are similar to those at Promzona, with the cheapest shots being 150 som ($2.20) and mixed drinks ranging from 250 to 450 som ($3.70-6.60). Metro Pub also serves food and has a VIP section in a balcony that overlooks the large dance floor.

Metro Pub is about a 20 minute marshrutka ride from the school, past Ala-Too Square. It’s a popular place for tourists, but the crowd isn’t always very friendly. Generally, Saturdays are better than Fridays, with a bigger crowd throughout the night and more open dancers.

– Daphne Letherer

Bar 12

32 Razzakov St

Bar 12 is one of the high-end bars in Bishkek that also has dancing space. It was the most expensive club I attended, but it’s not terribly expensive if you think in terms of US prices. It’s on the top floor and goes onto the roof, where you can overlook the city. We went on the weekend at about midnight, however, and no one was there. I hear it gets more crowded as the night goes on, but we ended up going to Metro Pub after a couple of drinks. While you can rock t-shirts at the other clubs, you’ll have to leave them at home if going to Bar 12. You don’t have to wear heels or a suit, but make an effort to look nice.

 

Rock Bar Zeppelin

43 пр. Чуй

I will start  by saying that if I had to guess places on earth that I would most likely see a Bob Marley cover band, giving one of the greatest live music performances that I have ever seen in my entire life, that Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan would probably not be high on the list. However, that is how I spent last Thursday night.

I always considered myself a rock and roller, and I can honestly say the stuff runs in my veins, so it only made sense that I would come into contact with rock and roll at some point on my journey in Central Asia. As luck would have it, one of my friends from my SRAS study abroad program, who has already spent several months in country, and knows all the good spots, invited me to hang out one night at a rock and roll joint that he frequents called “Рок-Бар Цеппелин” (Rock Bar Zeppelin).

He told me that it was going to be an event honoring Bob Marley’s birthday (February 6th) and that there was going to be a Bob Marley cover band playing. I liked this idea, of a Kyrgyz Bob Marley cover band in a rock and roll bar in Bishkek. We agreed to meet at the bar at 8:30.

I hopped a cab, which came out to about 150 som ($2.97) to get from The London School to the bar. It wasn’t too far, and by the time I got there I saw the large neon lights for the place. On the outside it looked a little desolate and for a second I thought I might have not been in the right place. I approached the entrance and was greeted by a bouncer. After getting the customary pat down to make sure I didn’t have anything I shouldn’t have, I was cleared to enter.

The entrance fee tonight was 200 som ($3.96), and that also got you one beer and a bowl of potato chips. I entered a pretty empty bar. I thought maybe it was going to be cancelled, but people started funneling in soon after me. I got myself a Балтика (Baltica) beer (which is the pervasive, omnipresent brand in the post-Soviet space) and my bowl of chips and found a table to sit at and wait for my friend. The interior looked like a generic rock club. There were a lot of pictures and posters on the wall of different bands and artists, both American and Russian alike. I thought it was pretty cool to see Виктор Цой (Victor Tsoi) next to KISS.

My buddy showed up, and we had a few beers and relaxed and shot the breeze. One Балтика goes for 140 som ($2.77). We sat and relaxed for about an hour and a half while more and more people trickled in, but no band yet. We half expected the band to no show. As great of a story as it would have been, being stood up by a Kyrgyz Bob Marley cover band in Bishkek, that wasn’t what was in the cards for us tonight.

The band eventually showed up and announced their name: “Сафари” (Safari). Then they started their set. I admit that I wasn’t expecting much, so I foolishly put these guys in my blind spot, but oh boy… once they started playing. These guys tore it up. Not only were the band members each shredding on their own instruments, but the front man sang beautifully (in Russian, of course) while busting out on the rhythm guitar too. My knowledge of Bob Marley’s work is pretty limited. I only really know a few songs, and they are all the ones that everyone pretty much knows (Jammin’, Buffalo Soldier, Three Little Birds, No Girl No Cry). Yet these guys made me really like Bob Marley… or so I thought. Later that night when I got home I listened to the originals. I was actually a little underwhelmed by Bob Marley in comparison to Сафари. Heck… did Сафари do Bob Marley better than Bob Marley? We stayed for about 45 minutes, then decided we were going to head off to satisfy our hunger. Conveniently the bar was right next to a pizza joint. I like the Bishkek Rock and Roll scene. Awesome Russian covers of great music with good, cheep beer next to pizza joints. What’s not to love??

– Nick Cappuccino

The Mansion

Shabdan-batyra 1d/1

The Mansion boasts the largest dance floor in Bishkek, but, unfortunately, I was unable to go during my trip because it was under renovation. Based on what I’ve read online, if you like the bigger crowds with lots of dancing and EDM (electronic dance music), The Mansion is most likely worth checking out. There was another club I didn’t have a chance to try, Rock Bar Zeppelin, where live bands play rock music. The final major club is Retro Metro (not to be confused with Metro Pub). I didn’t go to Retro Metro because we heard from other students that it was too small and had an older, unfriendly crowd.

– Daphne Letherer

Get Out and Dance!

If you find yourself wondering what to do over the weekend, the club scene in Bishkek is worth checking out. This guide has covered just a few but there are many more – such as Retro Metro Discotec and Rock Bar Zeppelin. There is a club for every kind of experience. Most of them use Instagram as their primary mode of advertisement, and it’s the easiest way to check if a club is open and get a feel for the crowd. Of course, be safe when going out. My friends and I never had any issues or dangerous encounters, but you still want to make sure to keep an eye on your friends. Dancing on the weekend is a great way to relax, make friends, and experience the culture of Bishkek.

About the author

Daphne Letherer

Daphne grew up in Indiana and is a double major in Russian Studies and Global and International Studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio. She is studying Russian and Central Asian culture in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for five weeks this summer. She aims to improve her Russian in an immersive environment, to explore a lesser-known country that is bursting with beautiful scenery, and to understand better how our beautiful planet works and how people live their lives each day. She intends to explore as much of our world as possible!

View all posts by: Daphne Letherer

Eirene Busa

Eirene Busa is a Master's Candidate at Georgetown University with the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies. She has a BA in History and a Minor in Middle East Studies from the College of William and Mary. She studied Russian at the NOVAMOVA Russian language school in Kiev in the summer of 2012. She is currently in Bishkek with the SRAS "Home and Abroad: Report" program.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

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Nick Cappuccino

Nick Cappuccino is currently a junior at CUNY Hunter College in New York City, majoring in Russian language, and double minoring in Geography and German language. Nick has also been studying Persian Farsi for the past two years with instructors from New York City’s ABC language exchange, and Turkish for one year with instructors from New York City’s Ataturk School at the United Nations. He has also studied Russian language at Indiana University’s SWSEEL summer language workshop. Nick is doing his semester abroad with SRAS in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan, where he is studying Russian and Tajik with a Challenge Grant.

View all posts by: Nick Cappuccino