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Latest Issue. Past Issues. The only problem? Welcome to North Korean nightlife. The Macanese-run Egyptian has a sign claiming to be open nightly between the hours of p. Tales of debauched nights behind its locked glass doors -- which showcase a rack of traditional North Korean clothing and some half-hearted hieroglyphics -- are rare enough to be semi-legendary.
The reason the club was shut that night was that there were no Chinese staying at the hotel that week and, consequently, neither were the prostitutes that typically service them. Even with its irregular hours, though, the Egyptian is a bit of a rarity. The mere existence of such bars, however, is a sign of the gradual easing towards a marginally less controlled North Korean society in Pyongyang, at least. For non-Koreans, nightlife is mostly confined to downtown hotels like the Koryo or the Yanggakdo.
When the tanks have all rolled off, though, the real celebrations begin. In homes and bars across the city, bottles of beer and soju are opened and shared. Driving around the big cities at night, one can sometimes spot clusters of men sinking pints at street bars.
Most of this is off-limits to foreigners, who must attend pre-approved bars — but there are occasional glimpses permitted. There was a seat left empty where Kim Il Sung once sat. Otherwise, drinking was the same as in any country. Although these are named with typical Soviet flair -- Beer Number 1, Beer Number 2, Beer Number 3 and so forth -- the equipment used in their brewing actually comes from a well-regarded, though now defunct, British brewery.
They asked if I knew what happened to the brewery, exchanging conspiratorial looks. I tried both brews: one made of around 70 percent barley, the other a rice beer. Although it is a conservative culture, North Koreans will drink openly and publicly on certain days. Camaraderie comes from toasting and singing. Celebrations often include extended, formalized Kim-cheersing, but people tend to drink in moderation.