Julius Cavendish: Atmosphere killer as expat refuge raided

Kabul Notebook

Share
Related Topics

It is the closest thing Kabul has to glamour, a demi-monde where spies, aid workers and mercenaries can momentarily lose themselves in a rose-scented garden, quaff cocktails or cava, and party the nights away. But now L'Atmosphere, a French restaurant in the Afghan capital and the centre of the expat social scene, is facing closure after it was raided by the vice and virtue police, along with three other restaurants popular with foreigners.

Police said yesterday that they had acted on a tip-off from disgruntled neighbours and arrested nine foreigners and an Afghan, on suspicion of "moral corruption" and selling alcohol. Among those dragged from their beds in the small hours of Tuesday was the L'Atmosphere boss, Jerome Mathieu.

Friction between bar owners and the police is nothing new in Kabul. Each raid prompts fevered speculation over the motive: was a bribe overdue? Did the management refuse entrance to someone influential? But this time there is a sense it's more serious, leaving foreigners in Kabul wondering where they'll go to escape from the sometimes trying circumstances in which they live.

Among Kabul expats, L'Atmosphere is a ubiquity where waiters in starched tunics serve industrial-strength cocktails to the hard-bitten and the hard living. It is where bikini-clad women can bask by the swimming pool and forget about the lack of basic freedoms and, as the evening draws in, dance to a soundtrack of questionable French dance music while war junkies swap stories at the bar. In the restaurant, you can order duck a l'orange and steak-frites, along with ordinary French wines at extraordinary prices.

And because of its reputation as a fleshpot, L'Atmosphere is storied as the most likely of Kabul's nightspots to be bombed. More than one journalist has rented rooms nearby to ensure a first-hand account of any terrorist spectacular and as security in Kabul has worsened, embassies have banned staff from visiting. The only diplomats to make it are those able or lucky enough to give their bodyguards the slip.

Underlying the escapism and frivolity, L'Atmosphere has also represented the uncomfortable collision of affluent Western culture with grinding Afghan poverty. The bolted doors, passwords shouted by armed guards and, most tellingly, the sign at the entrance warning "foreign passport holders only" are a constant reminder of expats' dislocation from the country they are living in. So is the party really over? One L'Atmosphere regular reckoned: "It's closed before. It will bounce back. Won't it? It is a Kabul institution. It can't close." Then she added: "You've got to expect such things in this type of environment. But I shall be really annoyed if airport security starts clamping down on bringing in duty-free. A girl needs a G and T."

Basement drinking

Almost as fabled among Kabul drinking spots is the Gandamack Lodge, named after the British defeat in 1842 at the hands of Afghan tribesmen. Replete with jingoistic paraphernalia, the Gandamack offers a real rarity: an English pub in its basement.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review