Columbia Star

Lithuania, a new democracy, a new friend—last night on the town

Originally published June 3, 2005

 

 

Our trip to Lithuania had been hard work – speaking at the conference, speaking to university classes, meeting with university officials, and touring the country. Now, our last night in town, it was time to party.

Mind you, Jim Fisher and I are a bit long in the tooth, but we’re game for almost anything we can call a cultural experience. Our host, Andrius, and his next door neighbor, Lidiya, a travel agent, hosted an evening we’ll never forget. They brought in Geda, an art professor, and we planned our itinerary over Lithuanian beer.

Lidiya, a woman like no other I’ve ever met, suggested several of her favorite night spots. “Gravity is the greatest. It’s built in a plush underground bomb shelter. Yeah, the Russians thought you Americans were going to attack us. Hordes of hip people. A great deejay.

“Helios has techno music, loudest place in town. Lots of bleach blondes and black suits. If you stay past one o’clock, you get your cover charge back.”

Jim and I looked at each other. This sounded like something we did 40 years ago, but why not?

Lidiya continued, “New Orleans has live bands, popular music, good dancing. It’s in a dark, dank basement, lots of dancing space but no seating.

“The Broadway has jazz and cheap drinks. Old men bring their trophy dates to show them off. Everyone sings along.

“The Mambo Club is built on an old bridge. Raw energy. Best dancers. Problem is the Russians have moved in with their retro Soviet stuff.”

Andrius volunteered to be the designated driver. Geda seemed to be shocked by everything Lidiya said. Jim and I were getting hungry so we decided to get dinner first. Lidiya led us to Pizza Jazz, an Italian restaurant built into the fuselage of a 747. Over pizza and beer, we decided to venture first to Ministerija, Vilnius’ first and best nightclub. Lidiya said it was the most popular in town.

At 11 o’clock we arrived at Ministerija to find lines of elegantly dressed young people waiting to get in. Lidiya’s influence jumped us to the front of the line, down the steps, past the bouncer, and onto the dance floor. The strobe lights, rock music, and jumping dancers took me straight back to my hippie days. It was too crowded to order, drink, or even breathe, so we made our way back up to street level and up another flight to the restaurant.

More stylist yuppies, lower volume music with surround videos screens, a saner world. After several rounds of drinks, Jim made some friends and we had our own party. Twice we tried to get back to the dance floor with no success.

At one o’clock, Lidiya suggested, “The Whiskey Bar has a dance floor and a place to sit.” So we paid our bill and struggled through the hordes of newly–liberated Lithuanians to Andrius’ propane–burning Toyota.

The Whiskey Bar was deep in an underground bunker, probably built by the Russians to hide from American spy planes. On the wall was a framed ad for Billy Beer. Someone remembers Jimmy Carter’s wayward brother.

Another round of drinks and we headed for the dance floor. Bumping, grinding, slipping, sliding though cave–like corridors following the strobing music. Jim cleared a little space for Lidiya, Geda, and me to pretend to dance. Music blared, lights flashed, arms went up, shouts accented the beat, and we gave it our best until the smoke filled our lungs beyond capacity.

A final round of conversation, a long drive home, and farewell hugs at four o’clock. A long night on the town ended a wonderful trip to Lithuania.

Viva Lietuvo!

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