So in 1988 the Steppe Inne (named after the vast Mongolian Steppes) was born in a hut on the presmises of the British Embassy.
You have to be a member to get in or be a guest of a member. But their standards must be slipping as they even make members out of Yankees like me and on any given night about 90% of the attendees are non-British. The embassy cat wanders in and out at will, I beleive she is a defatco permanent member. Last week I think the only continent not represented was Antarctica.
When I first arrived in UB (Ulaanbataar that is) I was lucky enough to be introduced to Brigitte (who runs a German bakery & cafe' in UB, but that is another whole set of stories...) who straightaway invited me to be her guest at the Steppe Inne on Friday night. Today there have to be over a hundred restaurants, new night clubs and even three Irish pubs so no real need for another pub, and one that is only open on Friday nights no less, so why does it continue?
It is a slice of history, yes; but the real answer is both simple and profound. The Steppe Inne is not about the beers, it is about the people. Strangers in a strange land. This is where the Expats (expatriates = foreigners) gather on Friday nights to connect with each other. This was my gateway to UB and Mongolia, friends are made quickly and advice and connections are shared freely. Some people are just passing through, some come in and out on business and some have lived here more than a decade. From big business people to NGOs to missionaries to other embassy's staff to students & scholors they all are part of an instant community. It is one of what I consider the three expat networking centers in UB.
The British embassy expat staff (there are only three of them) and the Ambassador's wife cheerfully serve from behind the bar, people donate goodies like pretzels from the German bakey and we all pay our own way (except for the space of course). What surprised me was to find out that at the end of the year they add up their income, subtract their expenses and any surplus is donated to local charities.
I remarked to the British Ambassador that this was a wonderful example of "practical diplomacy" in action.