Esthetic Joys Embassy: A Self-Proclaimed Cultural Nexus

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By Victoria Ren

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN — Situated in the heart of Yerevan, Esthetic Joys Embassy is an eclectic bar where diverse worlds converge. Repats, expats, travelers and locals all unite here under grapevines and a vivid flag that says PACE, which means ‘peace’ in Italian.

When walking halfway uphill on Baghramyan Avenue — one of the main streets of Yerevan — you face the National Assembly on the left. On the right, there’s a bright pink bar with a Cyrillic sign indicating the initials “ПЭУ” amidst luscious greenery. Both buildings are connected by a long, narrow sidewalk at Galoyan Yeghbayrner street. It is dark and calm, illuminated on both ends. One end is part of the Armenian governmental structure, and the other is an entertainment hub established by Russian expats.

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At 72 Sarmen Street, the specific location of the bar, three Moscow-based enterprises joined forces to establish what would become a cultural nexus in the heart of Yerevan. The venue, whose initials stand for the name Esthetic Joys Embassy in Russian, is a collaborative effort of Esthetic Joys—an event company, “Рюмочная Мечты” [Rumochnaya Mechty, or Dream Shots, in the sense of alcoholic drinks] — a bar specializing in shots, and Rovesnik — another popular Moscow-based bar. Together, they have created a unique space with recognizable pink walls, setting it apart from any existing counterparts in Yerevan.

(photo Danil Primak)

Originally, the plan was to launch the Esthetic Joys Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia. However, none of the buildings seemed suitable, as they were either located in residential areas or in more underground settings. Eventually, the team decided to explore Yerevan for the perfect location, and surprisingly, found it quite quickly.

The current building of the Esthetic Joys Embassy was once the residence of the ambassador of Morocco. Later on, it turned into a Dutch underground members-only club and then an IT office. The buildings on Sarmen Street, which leads up to the American University of Armenia, are quite similar: two-story, with a small garden, Soviet-style windows, and squeaky metallic doors, reminiscent of a simple schema straight from the ’90s.

 Just before entering the bar, one can easily notice the diverse communities that unite here with no boundaries, hate, or disrespect toward each other. The former bouncer at Esthetic Joys Embassy was a man about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a long, slightly gray beard and a slightly wrinkled face featuring a noticeable crease between his eyebrows. The guy would initially startle customers with his excessive number of accessories in the shape of a skull, yet he would always be welcoming to newly arrived visitors.

On most Fridays, one might see three to five Slavic-looking men smoking next to the entrance. They have a distinctive style that is atypical to Yerevan: funky socks and bright jackets, and some also sport shoulder-length dirty blonde hair tied in a ponytail. All this materializes next to bouncers dressed head-to-toe in black with aquiline noses and short buzz cuts, who carry packs of strong made-in-Armenia cigarettes.

Lots of Russians started coming to the bar at first because the founding companies behind it are well-known in Moscow. That’s why the bar quickly became popular among Russian clientele.

“Initially, we were a hub for Russian expats simply because a Russian team was in charge of it. The ratio was 80% Russians and 20% locals who were curious about a new noisy place. However, now it is a place for everyone in the city [Yerevan] and country. Sometimes I come here and see no Russians at all. It is pleasant to witness how we managed to become a part of the Armenian community as well,” says Yakushev, the head of social media marketing and public relations, whose roots are from both Russia and Ukraine.

Upon entering, a whole new world opens up, very different from the regular party scene of Yerevan. At Esthetic Joys Embassy Bar, people do not gather just to party. Due to the planning of the space, there are open and closed-off areas for activities which give various options to visitors from which to choose: to enjoy oneself and drink and make small talk outside, or dance the night away inside.

The most interesting social interactions happen in the garden located behind the second story of the bar, the small smoking corner next to the veranda, and the adjacent bar area. These places are quieter but still crowded with people speaking Russian, Arabic, French, English, German, and many other languages.

“I love that different people come here. Foreigners, relocated people, locals – a very interesting mix, and that’s what makes this place so special,” says the bartender Elizar from Karachaevo-Cherkessia in a low-pitched serious tone. At first glance, the bartender seemed to have quite Armenian-looking sharp features. His long black beard contrasted with a juvenile set of tattoos on his fingers which included a sun with a smiley face, clouds, and flowers.

Later on, the bartender proceeds to reminisce about one of the most memorable shifts he had working at the bar: “There was one night, when I vividly remember a vogue ball was happening with lots of creative people dancing, in explosions of glitter. There were some people of an older generation who definitely did not share the same excitement towards that event, yet they stayed, enjoyed their drinks and did not show any anger.”

Indeed, while interviewing the personnel to record their observations, a group of six serious-looking Armenian men walked into the bar. All of them dressed neatly in cashmere sweaters with a zip, fur coats, some wearing a signature black or grey cap straight from the “Mer Bak” [Our Courtyard”] film series. They acted as if they were at a regular tavern in the city center. The personnel were not surprised, as if after a year of operation it became the norm here. Meanwhile, that group of not-so-young gentlemen did not mind guys with ear piercings or colored hair.

“This place is against ageism, discrimination on a racial basis. We welcome everyone who shares our core values, no matter what their background is,” adds Yakushev with great animation.

“There’s a mix of relocated Russians from the creative sector (whether art, media, or IT) plus Yerevan artsy crowds plus qyarts [local gangsters], with all different age groups, but predominantly 25-35, I feel. It’s the most eclectic spot in Yerevan, where qyarts can be friends with the queer community and vice versa, and I’m here for it,” says a frequent visitor to the Esthetic Joys Embassy who is a repat who moved to Armenia via the iGorts program from the UK and previously lived in Russia and Spain.

Indeed, worlds that might seem incompatible in their natural settings find a way to communicate despite challenges at this small bar on Sarmen Street. On multiple occasions, one group of young Armenian repats from various parts of the world — Lebanon, Syria, Australia, the US, Russia, and the EU — was observed here. They all possessed distinct cultural backgrounds, fluency in either Western or Eastern Armenian, and could easily engage with visitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States, overcoming any language barriers. On one occasion, they encountered a tall, slightly tanned man wearing a keffiyeh, who turned out to be a backpacker from Iraq. The Arabic-speaking repats exchanged a few phrases in Arabic, while English and Russian speakers looked on in amazement.

Armenians who were raised outside of their homeland often are well-versed not only in their mother tongue but in several other languages. Meanwhile, while Russian expats are slowly adapting to not just the culture but the Armenian language, they find ways to communicate with customers from different parts of the world.

“As an Armenian repat from a non-Russian-speaking country, it’s quite unusual for me to be a loyal customer of an almost [fully] Russian-speaking spot, but here we are! I like this place most for a few reasons. First, it reminds me of some of my favorite cafes in my home country. They also have great cocktails, filter coffee, and ambiance. And the Russian part? I’ve started understanding a little Russian, the staff has started learning Armenian, and English is always a third choice. They get me every single time, and I’m not complaining,” says a young repat from the Middle East, who asked to keep his identity undisclosed.

No language barriers, politics, or gender identification can create divisions in this pink bar. It’s fascinating how effortlessly people find harmony here.

I feel like it’s the environment it creates, where people engage in deep conversations. This experience is unique and special,” adds an Australian-Armenian who relocated from Sydney to Yerevan about two years ago.

Cultivating such a diverse clientele was not part of the founders’ original plan. Moreover, they certainly did not anticipate days when there would be no Russian visitors at all, only non-Russians. When Esthetic Joys Embassy first opened, the owners could not have imagined that a small house would eventually become a hub connecting so many diverse cultures here in Yerevan. The paved pathway leading to the cultural nexus appears to also create a link with the National Assembly — a connection between two independently functioning structures supporting life in this country.

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