Tirana is a poor city. Albania is a poor country – in Europe, only Ukraine, Kosovo, Bosnia and Moldova are poorer. Walking in the city, one feels a gripping, immediate destitution. Children beg in the streets, manhole covers are missing, trash is piled in empty lots. Even in Tirana’s center square one can feel it – at night, Roma prostitutes in tawdry petticoats stand on the steps of the opera.
But there’s one small part of Tirana that is – almost miraculously – very different. The two questions: What does it stand for? Is it real?
“Today,” she continued, “it’s where the young people go, maybe for a drink or to hang out. It’s very cool.”
Above, Radio Bar, which is certainly a very cool bar, and one of the more popular.
Ish-Biloku, to many Tirana people, is a symbol of their victory over the tyrant, of their freedom, of the promise of a better life. But it’s also too expensive for Albanians.
When we ordered food at one restaurant, called Artigliane, everyone gaped at our plates. This salad cost about four dollars. The people around us couldn’t take their eyes off it. Almost nobody orders food in The Block. Tirana’s people eat and drink elsewhere, where things are cheap. They come to Ish-Biloku to sit and feel better off.
If the neighborhood wasn’t so small it might not feel so illusory. Instead, the fresh flowers and waiters in vests, the bright clothes and indolent youth seem like a fleeting mirage, flickering in a wasteland of poverty. Tirana isn’t really like this. Albania is still a very poor country.
This bar is almost attached to Hoxha’s old house.