Ahunbaeva Street 97A/ул. Ахунбаева 97А
Entrées from 150 som ($3)
In Bishkek, there are many bars and restaurants close to Ala-Too Square and along Chui Prospect. Their signs, menus and patios all beckon, promising a variety of different scenes and cuisines: national food, burger joints, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, even barbeque. If you venture in the opposite direction from the London School, however, the pickings are slim and continue to whittle down as you walk south towards the mountain range in the distance. While there are a fair number of restaurants, some of them quite good, gone are the sidewalk cafes and pedestrian ambiance of the northern stretch of the city. Until, that is, you find yourself in the oasis of Buddha Bar.
Located on Sovietskaya and Ahunbaeva, Buddha Bar is a newer restaurant and bar. While the interior of the log cabin styled building might be sleek and new, the real attraction is the outdoor seating. The patio is vast, with different sections. There are tables and chairs, as well as cushioned couches and easy chairs to lounge on and pass a few hours under the trees. Even though the restaurant is located on a busy intersection the frenzy and noise don’t invade the serenity of the patio, which borders a forested park. The patio also includes a couple different playgrounds for kids, and during the day there are often children laughing, playing, and running around from table to table. At night, however, the vibe becomes decidedly more adult. The music gets turned up, and music videos and fashion shows are projected onto a large screen. Waiters parade by carrying hookah after hookah to fashionably dressed young people, many in large groups piled onto the cozy patio furniture. As the hours pass, Buddha Bar becomes more bar than restaurant.
If you are hungry, though, you won’t be disappointed. The menu is vast, and offers a range of cuisines and price points: Russian salads, pasta and pizza, burgers and sandwiches, and even sushi. While I wasn’t brave enough to try sushi in Bishkek – I question its freshness, in a land-locked country in the heart of Asia – it certainly seems to be a popular menu item at Buddha Bar. The many other tables sharing large platters of sushi almost tempted me, but instead I opted for a sandwich. The double-decker vegetable sandwich was quite substantial, with large pieces of tomato, cucumber, and red pepper along with a couple fried eggs and a mayonnaise sauce, and French fries on the side. It was delicious and, at 150 som ($3), a great deal. Our entire table ordered sandwiches, in fact, including the club sandwich and the duck sandwich. Unfortunately, no one was brave enough to try the tongue this time. Though the sandwiches are a good deal, some of the other menu items are pricier, about 300-500 som ($6-10) for pizzas and pastas, or 750 ($14) some for the stuffed crust specialty pizza. Drinks are relatively pricy, too, with draft beers priced from 150 som ($3). You’re paying for the ambiance, however, and in my opinion that’s worth a few extra som. Especially so close to the London School with so few other options around.
For groups and faculty-led tours, I would recommend Buddha Bar for a night out. Whether inside or out on the patio, the restaurant could easily accommodate a large group, and the menu is big enough to satisfy diverse tastes. Just be careful, because the bar tab can grow quite quickly!