The war in East Ukraine has caused destruction and chaos throughout the region. While it hasn't directly affected the western part of the country, reality there is now noticeably different, the signs of war all around. Soldiers on leave roam the streets in military uniforms. Young Ukrainian girls hang off their arms, enjoying whatever little time they have together. Mourners flock to memorials in the city center as supporters demonstrate nearby.
It's hard to imagine such a scene in a European country in 2015; the vibe is far more befitting of a WWII movie set. But despite the somber atmosphere, the nightlife in Lviv—a city in the west—has not died down, which is a good thing, because it has some of the craziest bars in the world.According to some hotel and bar owners, nightlife—especially the places relying more on tourism—dropped as the war first broke out. However, they say all that reversed as people realized the localized nature of the combat. Locals felt comfortable returning to their regular lives and tourists returned. Now, walking the narrow, snow-covered cobblestone streets at night, the city is alive. Street performers belt out traditional Ukrainian songs while drunk Germans, Poles, and Brits flock to any one of Lviv's many themed bars.As a foreigner, the 50-cent beers and $3 meals are almost exactly what you want in a holiday. For just $25 you can spend three days drinking yourself to near death, if that's your thing.
A great way to start the day in Lviv is to fire AK-47s, pistols, and other Soviet relics at a drawing of Putin's face. There's even a liquor cabinet in the shooting range, although the owner wouldn't let us at it. If you're upset that you can't drink and shoot, as we were, then just order up another banana clip for $3 and fire a lengthy burst into Putin's sinus cavity.You've now theoretically solved many of Ukraine's problems. It's time to move on. Luckily, there's a restaurant near the center square that serves incredible Jewish cuisine. The Jewish people have a long history in the city; leading up to WWII, Lviv was home to around 220,000 Jewish people. The population now only hovers around 1,100, but their traditions live on.
This restaurant pays homage in a strange way. When you open the menu, you'll find that all the items on it are literally priceless. That's because you're going to bargain for your meal with the waiter afterward. Everything becomes strange far before that, though. A bus boy will at some point hand you a traditional orthodox hat complete with curls. You will be expected to wear that hat, as if it's the most normal thing in the world. The food is incredible and, if you play your cards right, ridiculously cheap. After some haggling, my waiter said he'd knock down the price if I left some souvenirs. I handed him a metro pass and an expired gift certificate. That knocked the price down to $7. It bought us beers, appetizers, and two dinners. If you have any sort of gifts better than useless, expired cards, you can walk out for less.Next up is a bar in which you're served by little people. That's the whole concept. As you enter the bar you'll smack your head against a plank of wood on the stairs, because the place is built for little people. Mind you, for $2 you can order 1.5 liters of beer and drink away the pain, so peaks and troughs.A couple of blocks away is the bar that begot all themed bars in Lviv. It's called Kryjivka. Enjoy trying to pronounce that. The bar labels itself the most visited restaurant in Europe, and considering the line-ups it actually might be. You can swing by at any time of the day hoping to get in and you'll be shit out of luck. The only option is to stand in line, which exists because the doorman screens everyone. Not in the way a club might check to see if you're wearing the wrong kind of pants, though; after knocking on the door, a man slides open a small panel and shouts, "Glory to Ukraine!" And you shout back, "Glory to the Heroes!" If you don't, you might as well turn around and walk away. That's just step one.
Next he'll say, " Moskal'ee ye?" Which, literally, means, "Are there any Russians with you?" However, there's a deeper meaning, all the more so now after the Russian invasion. The phrase is reflective of the long struggle for independence from the Soviet Union and actually means, "Are there any people who are against the independence of Ukraine with you?" It's a subtle but very important difference.Even if you don't speak the language and end up blankly staring at the man, he'll let you in. Once inside you're handed a shot, because this is Ukraine. You will do shots everywhere. The hygiene level of this cup is questionable, but don't fret. You'll forget all about it as the gatekeeper ushers you down a dimly-lit flight of stairs.
This is where the fun begins. Up to now, you've only spent $10 or $12 and you're already pretty drunk. Inside, for another couple of bucks, you can buy a round of Medovukha shots. Medovukha is a honey vodka that tastes more like juice than vodka. It's incredibly effective at putting you on your ass.Kryjivka is effectively the reverse of the shooting range with the small bar inside it. It's a giant bar with a small shooting range built in. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how much you value your own life—you can only fire BB guns. Either way, shooting guns while intoxicated is one of the most enjoyable experiences you might ever have. You can even pick from various despots and dictators to fire at. Always wanted to shoot Hitler after 11 shots of vodka? Now's your chance!
While shooting you might notice that, off in the corner, there's a child holding a rocket launcher. Don't sweat it, though—children can't lift up loaded rocket launchers. It's a relic strewn among many pieces of military equipment, such as Soviet machine guns and grenades. It's unlikely anyone knows how to operate the ancient equipment, but you never know.
At some point, you will hear a gunshot. You'll watch a man get led out holding his hands above his head. He's followed closely by a senior citizen with a pistol. They're heading to the interrogation room. Not only does this bar have guns and rocket launchers, but also some of the charm of a Gulag.The man has been labeled a Moskal'ee and is led to a tiny cell in the bar. There, he's forced to prove his allegiance to Ukraine by reciting traditional Ukrainian poems and songs.Your last stop of the night will most likely be a bar called Maso, a surprisingly welcoming sadomasochistic bar just around the corner. The moment you walk in you will be whipped by a tiny waitress in a red corset and black stockings. At least that was my experience. Generally you have to request a whipping, but evidently I deserved one.At the back of the bar you'll find a steady stream of seemingly normal people volunteering to be next. Men must take off their shirts for the experience but women do not have to. Each person leans over a table while a corseted dominatrix steps up to help them immediately regret their decision. The waitresses go easy for the first three before letting it all go. On the fourth they stop holding back and let the whip fly. One person managed to last for ten. For 20 lashes, you can save 10 percent on your tab. Savor that while you bleed into your sheets.If you're up for more drinking after getting punished by a 5'2" brunette in knee highs, there are dozens of bars around. They probably won't provide the same novelty factor that these bars do, but who knows—maybe you'll find the love of your life, or maybe you'll throw up in an alley. Either way, the night will be great.Follow Christian on Twitter.