how to open a restaurant in baghdad
Much has been made of upscale restaurants moving into marginalized neighborhoods in the hopes that low property values will turn into SoHo. But, the recent spate of chic eatery openings in Baghdad, have caused some to question the notion that any old war-zone is a good place for a bistro.
Last month, John opened Chez Guerre in Baghdad’s Al-Kadhimya neighborhood. The restaurant has been packed from day one and John tells us that far from taking away from the mood, the pitter patter of automatic weaponry sets the kind of terrifying tone that his customers have come to expect from their dining experiences, “They say it reminds them of some of the better independent films about the Holocaust,” John says. It was in keeping with this tone that John chose the name Chez Guerre, and it’s the combination of these elements that highlight John’s overarching belief that restaurants are concepts and not just a place to stuff your face or get shot.
Many believe that bringing higher end restaurants into war-zones will lead to gentrification and eventually to democracy. “It gives people a reason to go to a neighborhood that they wouldn’t have been caught dead in before, or rather where dead is the only way they would have been caught there.” To decrease the risk of being caught dead on your way to his restaurant John offers a complimentary armored transport service. But he’s convinced that the surging popularity should be attributed as much to the promise of an entirely original dining concept as to a general death wish.
At Chez Guerre the ever-popular small plates trend has been taken to a whole new level. John has dispensed with plates all together and instead serves the dishes in spent artillery shells. Well who could stay away? No one. But who could stay alive? Fewer still. The nightly gunfights in the area have forced John to install titanium window coverings, and each guest is offered a flak jacket with their menu in the hopes that they will successfully make it through all three courses. Three heavily armed marines stand guard at the large front door, and John admits that pretty much the only reason any Americans are still in Iraq is to guard restaurants like his.
If there’s one thing John laments it’s the fact that due to the heavy iron girders reinforcing the door no one can tell that it’s made out of the most beautiful teak. He has tried to remedy this by putting a picture of the door on the menu, so guests can at least leave with the impression of having seen a teak door. John says that only a few patrons have become ornery after one of the hourly lockdown drills, used to ensure that everyone is ready in case of armed intruder, and he is quick to point out that most guests have been more than willing to take the recommended week-long disaster training class organized by his bussers. John is enthusiastic about the future, saying proudly, “People were always saying to me, ‘war is no place for soufflé,’ but honestly there’s nothing that pairs better with a Bordeaux than a bullet.”