Countless Western visitors to Iraq in the past decade have thrown their heads back after a near-miss with a roadside bomb and thought, “I need a drink right now”.
Enter the World's most dangerous bar - Baghdad Country Club.
In 2005, as the insurgency reached a fevered pitch in Iraq, James found himself cursing and speeding through downtown Baghdad with about US$300,000 worth of liquor in his 18-wheeler. This would soon become the first run of many. He had never handled that much of his own money before, much less handed it over to someone he barely knew, in cash. His entire life savings was now denominated in liquor and his status as a Bootlegger was thus born.
The Baghdad Country Club was the only authentic bar and restaurant in Baghdad's Green Zone. It was situated in a nest of villas that once housed Saddam’s elite but was then home to government offices like the Ministry of Environment. It was the one place where people could forget about the chaos for a moment. Anyone -- ministers, diplomats, contractors, peacekeepers, aid workers and Iraqis -- could walk in, get dinner, enjoy a fine bourbon or Bordeaux, and light a cigar from the humidor to go with it.
Legend has it that a free shot of whiskey or bourbon was offered on the house if an interesting story was shared. Patrons would check their weapons in a safe, like coats in a coatroom, and leave the war behind as they wandered past a sign that read:
James was often seen around the Green Zone on his Vespa moped, wearing his Saville Row pin-striped suits, Glock on his hip. On a liquor run though, that suave James Bond attire was swapped out for body armor, M4, Glock and mechanics overalls to cross hostile roads and to blend into the day to day life of Baghdad.
Sometimes, Ajax (James’ Iraqi sidekick and right-hand man) would station a guy with an AK-47 amid the beer, hidden in a makeshift turret assembled from cases of Carlsberg or Sapporo. His job was to light up attackers, if any, on the crazy Route Irish. The club motto of “it takes real balls to play here” could not have been more fitting as James and his crew smuggled hundreds of thousands of bottles of the best quality liquor and wine through the back streets of Baghdad and into the Baghdad Country Club.
Fast forward a decade later, although the Baghdad Country Club no longer operates in Iraq, its infamy and romance lives on through stories shared by those who had been there, and by those who continue to serve.
Today, the Baghdad Country Club is all about connecting people and raising funds for veterans , good quality liquor, cigars and that 1940s Casablanca suave.