Although Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, is a small, post-war and underdeveloped city, it holds its own in regards to restaurants, bars and nightlife. There’s a large US expat population here, mostly working with NGOs and the like, which result in a good choice of Western cuisine and alcohol served in friendly bars, pubs and clubs. The more adventurous will find traditional eateries serving Kyrgyz dishes and local brews, some of which, including the house vodka, need to be taken very seriously.

The Kyrgyz are hospitable people to whom drinking is a traditional and social ritual. Travelers who are invited to imbibe with a local will soon realize that knocking back quantity rather than quality is what it’s all about here. Kymys, a fermented mare’s milk, is guaranteed to cure even the worst hangover. For more sophisticated evening entertainment, the State Opera and Ballet offer European and Russian performances, and the State Philharmonic Orchestra does full justice to classical music in its own auditorium which is also used for folk and pop concerts. Two performance theaters offer shows in Russian and Kyrgyz, and there are several movie theaters screening the occasional English film.

Bars and Pubbing in Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek has the best selection of watering holes in Kyrgyzstan, including, bars, discos and clubs, although be wary leaving venues too late as opportunistic street crime includes the occasional attack on foreigners. The city’s favorite themed bar, Steinbrau (city center, Bishkek), serves its home-brewed Salvator dark beer, Georgian wines and lashings of German comfort food in a Munich beer-hall ambience. For sports fans, Metro (Chui 16A, Bishkek) is the place to be for its belting rock and pop, big-screen TV and pizzas.

For an upscale evening favored by embassy staff, live music, gin and tonics, and great cappuccinos, Bar Navigator (city center, Bishkek) is the venue for a classy date and also offers a vegetarian menu. Coco Cabana (Chui 32, Bishkek) is the newest disco on the block, featuring sexy go-go dancers, a trendy lounge bar and a hot dance club. Golden Bull (Chui, Bishkek) is an institution, beloved by expats and tourists alike for its cheap beer and loud music, while Retro Metro (Mira 24, Bishkek) is a bar for all seasons with its kitschy ‘80s, DJ and late-night partying.

Right next door to Retro Metro is Gloss (Mira/Gorky, Bishkek), a smaller, reasonably civilized bar and nightclub and City Club (Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina 85, Bishkek), the capital’s see-and-be-seen hang-out. Frequented by gangsters, Kazakh businessmen and the young, rich and beautiful, they have a strict dress code, and only the hottest people are allowed in. Outside the capital, there’s little in the way of nightlife with practically nothing in the Islamic region due to prohibitions on the sale of alcohol.

Dining and Cuisine in Kyrgyzstan

Eating out in Bishkek is an unusual experience encompassing traditional Kyrgyz cuisine, Russian dishes, Central Asia gastronomy, international favorites, and Ughur food. Popular dishes in Kyrgyzstan include plov, rice cooked in oil with mutton, lamb and vegetables, and the national dish, besh barmak, comprised of horse meat, lamb, or mutton with noodles and a sheep’s head on the side. If this isn’t your idea of a delicious meal, a visit to Adriatico Paradise (Chui 219, Bishkek) will delight with its chef-inspired Italian specialties, including pasta and salads washed down with Chianti.

For an upscale taste of Korea, Santa Maria (Chui 217, Bishkek) offers a pictorial menu with a small selection of Japanese and European dishes for good measure. It’s also one of the few places which are happy to accept payment by Visa. If you’re determined to try Central Asian cuisine minus the sheep’s head, the open-air Labyrinth Café (city center, Bishkek) has a great selection of meat-heavy offerings, including Kazakh-style ribs and noodles in a rich meaty soup. People-watching here is a delight.

Russian salads, fish dishes and pizzas are all available at Old Edgar (city center, Bishkek), served in a basement café reminiscent of a Bavarian lodge. There’s a good bar with a choice of beers and live music. Another basement dive, Café Mazai (Soviet 199, Bishkek) features an English menu detailing every rabbit recipe possible, including filet rabbit and a short list of more conventional dishes. If you’re heading to Osh, don’t miss the Farhad National Restaurant (town center, Osh) for its traditional Kyrgyz cuisine and ambience.