The world's first cocaine bar

By chillinwill · Aug 19, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    "Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram." The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.

    The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. "We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM," says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months. Behind the bar, he goes back to casually slicing straws into neat 8cm lengths.

    La Paz, Bolivia, at 3,900m above sea level – an altitude where even two flights of stairs makes your heart race like a hummingbird – is home to the most celebrated bar in all of South America: Route 36, the world's first cocaine lounge. I sit back to take in the scene – table after table of chatty young backpackers, many of whom are taking a gap year, awaiting a new job or simply escaping the northern hemisphere for the delights of South America, which, for many it seems, include cocaine.

    "Since they are an after-hours club and serve cocaine the neighbours tend to complain pretty fast. So they move all the time. Maybe if they are lucky they last three months in the same place, but often it is just two weeks. Route 36 is a movable feast," says a Bolivian newspaper editor who asked not to be named. "One day it is in one zone and then it pops up in another area. Certainly it is the most famous among the backpacker crowd but there are several other places that are offering cocaine as well. Because Route 36 changes addresses so much there is a lot of confusion about how many cocaine bars are out there."

    This new trend of 'cocaine tourism' can be put down to a combination of Bolivia's notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic "anything goes" attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower. (Coca is the leaf, and cocaine is the highly manufactured and refined powder.) Morales has diligently fought for the rights of coca growers and tossed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) out of Bolivia. While he has said he will crack down on cocaine production, he appears to be swimming against the current. In early July, the largest ever cocaine factory was discovered in eastern Bolivia. Capable of producing 100kg a day, the lab was run by Colombians and provided the latest evidence that Bolivia is now home to sophisticated cocaine laboratories. The lab was the fourth large facility to be found in Bolivia this year.

    Nowhere in South America is cocaine production growing faster than Bolivia. Reports by the UN show that in Colombia, production dropped 28% last year [2008], while in Bolivia it rose nearly 10%. "There is more interest and and investment in purifying coca paste here and exporting it, rather than sending it to Colombia for purification," Oscar Nina, Bolivia's top anti-drug official, said recently.

    As the US and Colombian military put pressure on drug traffickers, operations are migrating into nearby countries, especially Bolivia, where the turf for illegal operations is as fertile as the valleys where the locals have grown coca for the last five centuries. Stopping cocaine tourism in La Paz could be as difficult as keeping Americans from drinking during prohibition.

    Down in Route 36's main room, the scene is chilled. A half-hearted disco ball sporadically bathes the room in red and green light. Each table has candles and a stash of bottled water, plus whatever mixers one cares to add to your drink. In the corner, a pile of board games includes chess, backgammon, and Jenga, the game in which a steady hand pulls out bricks from a tower of blocks until the whole pile collapses. If it weren't for the heads bobbing down like birds scouring the seashore for food, you would never know that huge amounts of cocaine were being casually ingested. There's a lot of mingling from table to table. Everyone here has stories – the latest adventures from Ecuador, the best bus to Peru – and even the most wired "why-won't-he-shut-up?" traveller is given a generous welcome before being sent back to his table, where he can repeat those stories another 10 times.

    "Everyone knows about this place," says Jonas, a backpacker who arrived two days earlier. "My mate came to Bolivia last year and he said, 'Route 36 is the best lounge in all of South America.'" It is certainly the most bizarre and brazen. Though cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, Route 36 is fast becoming an essential stop for thousands of tourists who come here every year and happily sample the country's cocaine, which is famous for both its availability, price (around €15 a gram) and purity.

    The scene here is peaceful; there seems no fear that anyone will be caught. ("The owner has paid off all the right people," one waiter says with a smile.) A female backpacker from Newcastle slips on to one of the four couches arranged around the table. "We've brought some [cocaine] virgins here. This will be their first time, so we are just rubbing it on their lips. But they are lucky – you could never get such pure coke back home. In London you pay 50 quid for a gram that's been cut so much, all it does it make your lips numb and sends you to the bathroom."

    Travellers' blogs also give the place a good writeup. "I travelled the world for nine months, and for sure La Paz was the craziest city and Route 36 the best bar of my entire trip," writes one, while another says, "Like to burn the candle at both ends? Well, here you can bloody well torch the whole candle."

    And torch your brain as well. Cocaine, as everybody knows, is highly addictive, destructive and easy to abuse. The rationale for outlawing cocaine was to protect public health – but instead the now 40-year experiment in prohibition has done little to protect the lives of millions of users worldwide who will snort whatever white substance is placed before them. The billions in annual profits have corrupted governments worldwide, and La Paz, without intending it, seems to have mutated into the front line of this failed drug war.

    Jonathan Franklin
    August 19, 2009
    The Guardian

    Share This Article


  1. Potter
    So you go there, blow a bunch of coke, wake up the next morning finding out you're in debt to a drug lord but it's ok he's got a farm you can work at...
  2. Benga
    very interesting revival of the speakeasy cocaine bars of western europe in the 1920's and, to a lesser extent, the Miami of the 1980's, but close to the production sites.

    not quite sure of what to make of this new development of narco-tourism...too bad the money's not going to people who might invest in healthcare, education, and socio-economic development rather than mansions, luxury goods and private armies...
  3. nibble
    You think they'd have a nice piece of glass and a razor for cutting lines rather than slumming it with a CD case and ATM card.
  4. Motorhead
    Ya what can swim say other than he would love to go. Haha chess on high quality Bolivian about a blitz game!
  5. ninjaned
    um this actually sounds rather awesome(to swim of course). a peaceful environment with cool new people where you can do a drug thats great for social situations? sign swim up! swim thinks that this is a genuinely good idea, and hopes it will catch on.
  6. Potter
    The coke heads the Doktor has had with patients, seem like one of the last groups of people the Doktor would wish to be in a room with. One at a time they were tolerable, for a bit. But a bunch of them together? Something about that refined drug, just taints people, you can often tell a regular user even if their sober, the way they talk, their idea flow, the way they move... Got a hard time seeing, even a well educated, genteel crowd, visiting an establishment like that, on a regular basis, not getting crazy after a while.

    But hell, if it was only occasional users, could be worth stopping in. OK, either way it's worth stopping in, but coming back... They better have some damn nice ambiance and manners.

    Would hate to see the fights that could break out at a place like that.

    And yeah, what a crappy picture, it would have made the article hella classy to have put together a real nice shot with a Victorian mirror, glass tubes, tiny metal spoons, linen napkins...
  7. dadrone
    At 15 pounds per gram, SWIM would like to know who exactly could snort enough coke in one night to put them into slavery.
  8. shhpongebob
    Hmm, makes you wonder what bolivians think about americans?
    i mean america is buying hudreds of kilos of coke a day from thier country, but thats not enoguh, so young people come to the source?

    well prehaps expands local markets for tourism or so, though its kinda sad it takes an addictive drug like coke for white people to show interest in it. not that cokes not an interesting phenomenon, but i mean if the most profound thing you did in south america was coke?!! (i mean even aushatca DMT stuff, cant spell, or yopo could quench a tourists thirst for new experiences maybe?)

    swim would be willing to stop by to see this crazy place, but would never do such an addicitng government drug.
  9. questforstarfish
    Oh my god, swim went there 2 years ago when she was traveling for three months in South America! That was the first place and time she tried cocaine...
    a group of Irish and British folks she was hanging out with that week suggested going to an after-party bar after the regular bars had started to shut down for the night. Swim agreed (thinking "after-party bar" meant drinking late) and off they were in a cab. There was one of those garage-door type of gates pulled down over a building but someone standing outside it. Just looked like a normal street to her. The Irish guy 1 said a simple "hola, amigo" to the doorman, who lifts the gate just enough for them to sneak under and slip inside. They walked through an empty room under construction, dark and desolate, then a second doorman opened a second door into en EXPLOSION of lights!

    Swim's jaw dropped as she looked around- the walls were giant mirrors, the lighting was dim and the carpet and velvet couches were red. Everyone was chilling out on the couches except the occasional person who would step up to the (empty) dancefloor to spin some glowsticks or something under the disco ball and twisting lights. They all found a table and sat down, and within a minute or two a server approached them. Irish guy 2 ordered "a round of beer and 3 grams." The server nodded and left, swim still completely oblivious to what was going on. The waiter came back quickly and left on the table: 6 or 7 beers, some rolled up pieces of plastic, a mirror, a straw and an expired credit card. Swim suddenly picked up on the situation. She looked around and, sure enough, people at every single table around them (90% of patrons being tourists) were cutting lines.

    They had a paid-off cop working there, who would warn the woman who owned the place (let's call her Rosa, a 50-year-old woman with countless thousands of dollars of plastic surgery and who partied right along with the customers throughout the night) when the police were nearby. On one of swim's visits to the bar, the lights turned off and Rosa came out from the back room, whispered to the group of police threatening to shut down the place, offered them a quick pass of cash, and they were gone. Just like that.

    She tells me the waiter was super-friendly, attentive, and even came around every so often to wipe off the mirror for them or offer a fresh, clean one, along with fresh straws and more beers. The room was like a movie set with the mirrored walls and velvet couches. For a first experience with cocaine, what can really beat that?! A very cool experience indeed.

    (*just for a side note, Bolivia is a beautiful country with a lot to see and do and is not even close to limited to drug tourism! Swim would 100% recommend traveling there even if there weren't crazy coke bars- they just add a nice little bonus ;) )
  10. Herbal Healer 019
    I wonder if they have any kind of purity standard. I mean do they have like street grade cut with powdered milk coke or like some pure from the andes mountains.

    Swims not into coke much but a business trip to this bar would be a hell of an experience.
  11. RoboCodeine7610
    Judging by the article, they probably have both.The cheap stuff is cut and the more expensive stuff is uncut.
  12. shembelial
    Swim would like to try some good Bolivian. Had pure a few times and there is a big difference from what Swim gets on the streets of Swims town. Swim can eat and sleep after a short while and the high is better with little irritation to the nasal membranes. Remember Swim whole face going numb.
  13. QvonB
    O m G ! Just came across the article in discussion after a year. Had no idea about this ! The above info is just SO awesome to some of us...:D *Wonders how true it is and hopes the thing is still on in the next couple months*

    This news just solved my friend SWIQ's dilemma about which South America place to plan a sweet holiday to. :laugh: Of course one would not plan a holiday to a Latin country known to have the purest white stuff ONLY for that thing alone, of course one who is sorta lured into cocaine will also want to visit that country's beautiful landscapes and all... :rolleyes: But on top of that, to have access to such a place and NOT go ?! Whoa !

    Moreover, one can not state that they have experienced cocaine until they have experienced it in its pure form, right ? Which means that my friend SWIQ has NEVER snorted cocaine !
    And the money saved by staying away from the highly adulterated crap that ends up around here could easily book a flight and a few days of stay in La Paz !

    And hey, why wouldn't it be cool to hang out with all kinds of nice folks that gathered in such a lounge, all cheery ? SWIQ liked the coffeeshops in Netherlands exactly for the type of vibe that such places create so a cocaine bar would have to be the sweetest coffeeshop for her. :-

    (Dear fellow DF members, sorry if SWIQ is annoying with her enthusiasm but she feels like a kid in a candy store after reading this news, please excuse her!)
  14. coolhandluke
    could most certainly get cheaper, bulk coke, but that could be risky. swim would probably spend a lot of time there, end up blowing all his money. swim wonders if needles or baking soda are allowed, most likely not he'd say.
  15. Moving Pictures
    ^ Same thing crosses my mind, osnapo. About the needles or crack. I'd guess no as well. It might ruin the vibe for some people if someone at the next table was shooting up. The crack might be okay though. Until someone gets all fucking high and shakey and has to have someone light the pipe while the hold it with both hands cus they're shaking so hard or shooting up with shakey hands, it could be ugly...
  16. mickey_bee
    One of swim's friends went to a similar bar, maybe even the same one who knows - he guesses there are quite a few - and yeah, described exactly the same situation.

    Come in, sit down, waiter asks for your drinks order and your 'other' order. Not surprising in a country that is so poor/corrupt and an active producer of cocaine itself.
  17. tashuisclay
    Swim travelled through Bolivia a couple of years ago, and without a doubt it was the craziest country he has experienced to date, and that was without sampling coca. A wild, but much fun country.
  18. Synaps
    Bolivia is known as one of the countries in SA that are safest for Western tourists. Probably the safest among the major producers of coke. Be polite and do not start fights with the locals and you should get by alright.
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!