Addis Ababa has a very unique nightlife scene that is absolutely 100% Ethiopian. That’s not to say that every bar, lounge or club you frequent will be serving traditional beer, wine and spirits, but there are definitely some unwritten rules you should adhere to that will just make your night a lot better and drama free. Below you’ll find some of these unwritten rules and other tips to ensure you have a great and safe night in Addis.
1. Dress up
Do you remember when you were in college, and you had a summer internship in a big city, and you really loved that dive bar where you could walk in wearing shorts, sandals and a t-shirt, and the bouncer didn’t think twice about letting you in? Yeah….kiss those memories goodbye because that’s not how Ethiopia works. Ethiopians are very conscious of their appearance and will always invest time and effort into looking well put together. This cultural attribute definitely plays out around town. Now men, I’m not saying you have to wear a suit every time you leave the house, but if you’re going to go out quite late, it would be a good idea to avoid wearing sneakers, definitely avoid wearing shorts (grown up jeans are ok), and probably throw on a button down shirt. Ladies, same goes for you, but with the exception of the button down shirt. You have more flexibility than the guys so long as you look stylish. Plus, I’ve never seen a lady not get into a venue in Addis.
2. Mind the altitude
The altitude of Addis Ababa is 7,726 feet above sea level…yeah. That’s right. A mile and a half. Puts Denver to shame. So if you weigh 100 kilos and you feel a little buzzed after your second beer, don’t worry. You don’t have a serious illness. You’re ok and this is normal. The extremely high altitude gets your buzz going a lot faster than when drinking at sea level so remember to pace yourself, mind your buzz and pace yourself throughout the night. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. On the flip side, some believe you also sober up quicker too so monitor that as well. You don’t want to end up completely sober in the middle of your night out and have to start all over again…
3. Ditch the car
Addis is probably one of the worst cities in the world to drive a car, but I’ll spare you the 5 pages it would take to list all the reasons why. This is a nightlife blog, not a” top 5 list of things I hate about Ethiopia”. Aside from driving in Addis being a miserable experience, you’ll likely face other challenges off the road due to you driving your car on a night out. First of all, parking is usually minimal to non-existent at many bars, restaurants, clubs and lounges. You could spend up to 20 minutes from arriving to getting into the place you want to go, thanks to crappy parking infrastructure at your venue of choice. Aside from that, choosing designated drivers usually doesn’t work because most people with cars don’t live near each other or go out together regularly so you’ll end up being your own designated sober driver every time you go out. Yeah, that would suck. Lastly, a lot of people use the above strategy minus the sober part, so being an inexperienced driver in Addis on the road with drunk drivers is obviously less than ideal. What I suggest doing is hopping on Addis Nightlife’s VIP Party bus or finding a taxi driver you like that charges fair prices, that you can call at night to take you from place to place. Most taxi drivers are willing to do this so it’s great to have at least 3 that you use regularly.
1. Don’t order from the waitress
Service standards in Addis haven’t grown as fast as the rest of the Ethiopian economy so you shouldn’t have high expectations of quick drink turnaround times when you’re at a crowded bar, lounge, or club. The best way to get a drink quickly is to find the least crowded bar/least busy bartender, use your elbows to box out the cheeky line cutters, and wait a few minutes to order your drink. Make sure to order something that can be served quickly (no cocktails or non-popular spirits or mixers) so the bartender doesn’t have to go to the storage room to top up your obscure ingredient. If he/she does, it will take at least 20 minutes. My advice is to keep it simple and you’ll get your drink fast. And so long as the venue doesn’t make you buy a bottle to reserve table real estate, it’s not rude to go to the bar instead of ordering from the waiter or waitress.
2. Don’t drink the whiskey at dive bars
Because it’s probably fake… Honestly with the exception of the most expensive establishments in Addis, you can’t be sure if that double pour of Johnnie Walker is even mostly weekly. It’s a well known fact that most popular whiskeys served at bars and restaurants in Addis are adulterated, so keep it to beer if you’re drinking at a questionable bar.
3. Don’t get into your taxi before negotiating a price
If you live in the developed world you may expect a taxi to have a meter or at least a systematic way of pricing your fare. Well guess what…Addis cab drivers have their own system; and it’s never consistent or in the customer’s best interest. First of all, you should ask a bouncer how much a cab ride to your destination will be. Even if they are not sure, their estimate will probably closet to or slightly above market. After you hail a taxi get straight to the point. Tell the cab driver where you want to go and how much you want to pay. If you can say part of that phrase in Amharic, even better. And make sure to lowball your ask a little because the driver will try and negotiate upward. At this point you should be able to agree to a reasonable fare, and, if not, it’s time to talk to a new taxi driver. By doing this you will probably save yourself an additional 50%-100% in additional taxi fares and the big headache of either getting ripped off or fighting with taxi drivers over money. You decide which path is for you.