… Club Itaka, when it was still “early,” perhaps midnight; the dance floor didn’t really pack out until 1 am or 2am…
I found a decently priced hotel on Expedia.com and booked my stay in advance; as I had mentioned earlier, this was less of a “travel” trip than it was a rest and relaxation holiday. My intent was to swim in the sea, have some good food and a few beers and check out the local nightlife. The hotel I selected, The Palladium Hotel was a 5 minute walk from the train station and seemed to be “ok,” in that the bed was comfortable and it seemed to have good security. Inside, it had a dated 80′s look that you might find on the set of Miami Vice.
I dined daily at the Palladium Club Restaurant as they had wonderful salmon and salads and at very reasonable prices. There was a never-ending stream of you twentyish looking Ukrainian men and women who were dressed in the latest styles and all chatting endlessly on their cellular phones. As none of them appeared to have gainful employment I had to wonder if there was some underworld funding going on or if they just had rich parents. The women all wore cute little sundresses that were very short at the thigh and many were bra-less leaving little to the imagination. Every woman had her hair all “dolled up” with accompanying makeup and accessories. High heels seem to be “required” in Odessa.
The men all looked like the stereotypical “Boris” with a low-cut striped t-shirt or “bowling shirt” that was two sizes two small with bulging muscles, a sizeable gut and protruding chest hair with a gold necklace that was just a little too big and a little to “blingey.” They all smoked never-ending boxes of cigarettes and barked at the women like they were slaves or servants. One thing I have always noticed is the male dominated society in the east; the men are very macho and treat the women in a way that would probably surprise most western women. An example: In America, if you want to get your waitresses attention you would say, “Miss,” or “Ma’am,” but in the E-block you call “Debochka,” which literally translates to “Girl,” or “young woman.” I can’t imagine calling out to a waitress in America saying “Woman! Bring me some ketchup!” It would likely end up in your lap. And perhaps it’s not the word but the way it is said, when someone who is dining (upper-class) calls to a waitress (working-class), they say it with a certain pom and arrogance that would have Marx and Lenin rolling in their graves.
… with my British friends at the Salsa Club in Arcadia, Odessa’s nightclub district…
On my first day, I met 3 fellow Brit vacationers and we all headed to the beach together. This was their first time in Ukraine and the first time in Odessa for all of us. It was nice to have some English-speaking chums to chat with. We got some sun and enjoyed the fresh beach-ocean smell and breeze. The four of us probably looked like crows sitting on a telephone wire as we watched the never-ending stream of beautiful Ukrainian women parade up and down the sand in the tiniest of bikinis in bodies that have not been destroyed by McDonalds and Burger King.
The Palladium Restaurant had a huge dance hall that appeared to be abandoned. The waitresses explained that in the summer months all of the nightclubs and bars in the Arcadia district are open. Arcadia is on the ocean front and apparently it is the “place to be” during summer nights. The huge dance floor adjacent to the Palladium Restaurant becomes a huge nightclub during the winter months when the Arcadia clubs close down. The hotel reception notified me that the owners of the Palladium Hotel also owned Club Itaka, one of the hottest night spots at Arcadia and that all hotel guests were entitled to free Itaka passes. I checked talked with my Brit friends and we all agreed to go to Itaka on Saturday night.
We all took a taxi cab to Arcadia, Odessa’s nightclub district. The area had the layout of a theme-park, something akin to Disneyland or Sea World wherein there are little paths that lead this way and that, each connecting one venue to another. But, unlike the theme park, instead of rides, this place had one nightclub or restaurant after another. We found a restaurant near the front entrance with a good view of the main walkway and ordered some “surf and turf.” In no time the table was covered with salmon and halibut, chicken and steaks and a few tall pints of beer. We chatted about our travels, work, family, home and all the while trying to fight off the whiplash as we craned our necks as one after another of Ukraine’s hottest women made their way in for a night of dancing. Mini-skirts and low-cut tops were the norm as were the incredibly high heels that seemed to adorn all the women’s feet.
After dinner, we settled first at a club that was hosting “salsa night.” The entire dance floor was perched up on a deck above the beach and the moonlight glistened on the water of the swimming pool and farther off it glistened on the ocean’s horizon. It was still relatively early, perhaps only 10pm but already the salsa club was doing an active business. I watched with great envy as some goofy looking guys – who knew how do dance salsa, and dance well – were hit on my the most beautiful of Ukrainian girls who all wanted to salsa. I thought back to my chance to learn to salsa when I was living in Guatemala and I turned it down, “Who would want to know how to salsa dance?” I had thought to myself. Doh! What a mistake; it has now been added to my “to do list.” So, we sat like wallflowers (photo above), sipping our beer, enjoying the salsa show that played out in front of us.
At close to midnight, we made our way to Itaka and handed our passes to the door man. Once inside I was quite impressed with the size of the place. It had several massive dance floors on two levels, large Greek pillars, amphitheater style seating at one dance floor, a huge “long bar,” balconies and an ocean view. Even early on (the party doesn’t really get into full swing until about 1am-2am), the dance floor was packed and the club was doing an enormous amount of business (below).
The video below is a quick snip of the dance floor while it was relatively early; by 2am it was so crowded that it took 15 minutes just to get onto the dance floor.
Again, I wondered about the Ukrainian economy. Drinks were sold at western prices, $5 to $8 for a beer or mixed drink. Some drinks ran $10-15 based on top shelf liquor or the complexity of the mix. The cover charge at the door was $8 and I saw some groups of 3 or 4 young men or women put away 5 and 6 rounds of drinks. This, in a country where the median income is sometimes $150 to $250 per month. Just were does this $ come from? Later, while talking to Lily, one of the waitresses at The Palladium Restaurant, she told me that in her entire life, she had been to the Arcadia district only one time. She came to Itaka but only because she had a free pass from her employer. I wondered then, if all of the people in this nightclub were the children of wealthy business people, mafia bosses, government leaders or perhaps there was some mysterious “underground” economy like I saw in Belarus and in Russia?
As I had seen before in Minsk, at some time in the evening, the dance floors were cleared and a “variety show” was put on. This evening, the featured show was BMX bike tricks and a singing and dancing show. Set to some pulsating disco music, several bike riders came out and thrilled the audience with one wheeled jumps up and down the dance floor staircases, trick leaps off of the high stages, riding while standing on the seats and handlebars and all sorts of other tricks that one might see in the “X games.”
Following the bike show were some couples dancing to popular contemporary music. The show was akin to something you might see from a New York Broadway production, but with a unique E-bloc twist. In classic East-Block fashion, the women are the “objects” of the men and when it came time for the men to sing one song, the women substituted as microphone stands (below). I looked at the Brits with disbelief and we all chuckled and joked, “Can you imagine this going off in the home country?” Every woman’s group would be out the next day picketing, throwing eggs and I’m sure there would be a lot of screaming. “Wow, only in Ukraine…”
As we enjoyed the show, I shot a couple of photos of the club. At just past midnight, people continued to steam in and the tables were quickly disappearing. Most clubs open at 8 or 9pm but don’t actually “get going” until 10 or 11 and by 1am to 2am hit maximum capacity. We were to soon find out that the crowds don’t start to wind down until 0430 to 0500 and the clubs shut down at sunrise, usually at about 6am. In the photo below, the guys are enjoying a beer at the long bar, with lots of Ukrainian “leg” in the background.
As the show was winding down, we decided to take a seat in the amphitheater seating. In a semi-circle perhaps 40 meters wide and stacked 6 or 7 levels up, 1/2 circle tables face the dance floor (photo below). There is a nominal charge to rent one of these booths but the upside is that you can park your drink and jacket, go and dance, and it will be there when you get back: your waitress keeps an eye on your table and brings you drinks snacks and even a full meal if you so order. I took the photo below as the variety shows were just ending and the dance floors were still clear of people. If you compare to the last photo, shot at perhaps 3am, you can see just how packed the club was.
I can try to describe the “crazy” party atmosphere by comparing it to some of the hottest nightclubs in Vegas. But the energy level exhibited by some of the Odessa youth made me wonder if there was not a mass consumption of methamphetamines going on. Some of these “kids” would hit the dance floor and stay out for two hours, sweating from head to toe, a glazed look about them and never stopping for even 1 break. Or perhaps I’m just getting too old? LOL.
Throughout the evening, we would see the craziest things. Sometimes, girls in short skirts would “bypass” the crowd by walking from table top to table top (below). And we would see these great big hairy overweight guys, not too good-looking - they reminded me of a Russian Grizzly bear with a disco shirt – surrounded by 4 or 5 (what could pass for) Supermodels. Clearly, the women here are attracted to money, power and status, and seem to abandon some of the better looking but perhaps “poorer” looking eligible bachelors. Note to any men who ever come to Ukraine in search of a woman, dress nicely and wear a Rolex – LOL.
At some time around 3am my eyelids were getting droopy but the party continued on (below). We tried a little dancing, had a few more bears and enjoyed watching “the show” of this crazy nightclub. At around 4am we were exhausted and decided to pack it in. The club was at full swing as was as crowded as we had seen the whole evening. In talking with some of the locals we were told that it will rage on until about 6am and that this is the “norm” every weekend in Odessa. It was quite a party, but now it was time for bed…
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