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: Programme Manager

£30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A portrait of Russell Brand by Nathan Wyburn using Birds Eye Mashtags, rice, peas and fish fingers  

If Russell Brand really wanted a revolution, then he would vote for the Green Party

Lee Williams
 

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum