In the “Drinking Buddies” series, I ask fellow travel bloggers to share their favorite bar experience from their travels. In today’s edition, Tim of Annual Adventure gives you the inside scoop on drinking in one of Antarctica’s only bars.
There I stood, one eye on the shot glass of brown liquid in front of me, the other on the pile of undergarments draped in the back corner of the bar. I paused, collected myself, and had one very clear thought: despite being a man, I wished I had worn a bra that day.
Having a Drink in One of Antarctica’s Only Bars
If you’ve ever been out exploring the frozen deserts of Antarctica (yes, Antarctica is a desert) and thought “I could really use a drink right now,” then I’ve got great news for you! Just make your way to Vernadsky Research Base, conveniently located at the intersection of 65°14′44″S and 64°15′29″W.
Vernadsky is my favorite bar that I’ve ever been to, for two main reasons:
- Storytelling potential, and
- Lack of other options in the area.
More than anything, the bar at Vernadsky research station offers a drinking experience unlike any other in the world. In a trip surrounded by unique experiences, this bar fits right in with the rest of your crazy days. And really, isn’t storytelling potential the standard measurement of any good bar against a bad one?
Not Your Typical Ambiance
Upon arrival at Vernadsky Research Base, I waddled past the penguins outside and was greeted by a VERY friendly host. A bald, mustachioed man with an endearing pot belly, he was eager to give hugs to all females who arrived (and, begrudgingly, to the males as well). Thus begins the Vernadsky tour, winding through science rooms (an official term), personal quarters, the medical clinic and ending, naturally, at the gift shop.
Once I set foot in the tourist depository, my eyes couldn’t help but wander about past the merchandise to a small, decorated corner that was carved out from the rest of the space. It looked like it had been adorned with the leftovers of a rummage sale, with about the same level organizational thought put into it. Assorted pennants were haphazardly pinned to the wall with thumb tacks, and the stained wood reminded me of the worn bones of a retired wooden ship.
My gaze continued past the deadpan face and deep eye sockets of the man stationed in this mysterious hole, and stopped when I reached something bizarre even for this quirky locale: a model sailing ship, barely recognizable under the pile of bras that covered it. The number of female fashion accessories in this one spot alone vastly outnumbered any female crew (if any) that might have been stationed there. Naturally, I had to wander over and inquire.
As I wandered closer, the glasses and napkins came into view. This was a bar! The researcher manning it looked at every tourist with the same level of disdain that only a cat owner can know, and there was only one item on the menu: vodka, distilled on site.
I’ve Made A Huge Mistake
Several key decision-making moments had led me to that my current situation: a half-cleaned glass of dark brown “Vodka” in front of me, and a pile of bras to my right.
Earlier that same day, everyone on our ship that had decided to go camping on Antarctica (read: 90% of the passengers on the ship, of course) that evening were given a strict safety lecture about how to survive our frigid night. Can you guess what one of the instructions was? Yup, no drinking alcohol that day!
I stared down at the least “pure” looking glass of vodka I’ve ever seen in my life, and glanced up to see my camping guide look at me from across the room. Nervously wondering to myself if I was going to freeze to death that evening, she managed to calm me from across the room with what must have been a well-practiced simultaneous eye roll and nod of approval.
With my fear of freezing to death assuaged, my attention turned to the dark brown liquid in front of me that was billed as vodka. I’m not the most experienced distiller around, but it didn’t look like what I felt vodka should look like.
I reasoned with myself internally, with such convincing arguments as “how many people have really been poisoned by ALCOHOL! It’s a natural disinfectant!” (LOTS of people, FYI), and “it’s distilled by SCIENTISTS, they know what they’re doing” (climatologist ≠ alcohol scientist). I decided to go ahead with it despite the strange appearance of the shot. I’m an adventurer, after all, and the nearest hospital was only about 700 miles away across the roughest ocean passage on the planet.
Time To Pay The Polar Piper
At this point I only had one last bad decision nagging me: why didn’t I bring a damn bra on this trip?? You see, the Vernadsky bar accepts two types of payment: Legal tender in the form of US Dollars (three of them to be exact), or the bra any given patron is currently wearing.
“But Tim, bras are expensive! It would be silly to give up a good bra when you could spend three measly dollars for the same thing!”
Agreed, but let me refer you back to reason number 1 of why Vernadsky is my favorite bar. Anyone willing to give up their bra for a shot of Antarctic distilled vodka will forever retain front-runner status of best bar story. In one sentence, you can conjure up images in your surrounding patrons’ heads of rugged adventure; dark, divey mystery; and surrealist absurdity all at once. Sure, you could not and say you did, but how often can you utter the phrase “I traded my bra for a shot of vodka in Antarctica” without feeling some internal shame for not having actually done it?
Alas, I paid for my “vodka” shot with boring paper money. It was time to toast the Antarctic health gods and knock back a shot of Ukrainian Climate Science’s best! I tipped my head back, raised my glass, and…
It was delicious! The burning beverage sliding down my throat was decidedly not vodka (duh), but it was supremely tasty, whatever it was. There were herbal and grainy flavors in there, although it was definitely not whiskey, either. Either way, I was a little sad that I couldn’t have more due to my camping plans for that evening.
Satisfied with the warmth in my belly, I thanked the still-glaring bartender for the drink and meandered back to the merchandise section for my obligatory “I went to Antarctica and want to humble brag about it” memento purchase. The beanie I bought still comes out any time the weather gets chilly, although it’s astoundingly bad at keeping me warm despite where it was bought. At least I can always remember the warmth of the scientific spirits in my belly and the reason I always pack a bra on any trip, just in case.
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Tim is an avid adventure traveler and photographer who seeks out the most exciting trips he can squeeze in while still holding down a full time job in Los Angeles.
He started http://annualadventure.com in order to help inspire others to follow his lead! From Antarctica to Uganda and beyond, he has traveled to all seven continents and is excited to share his adventures with the his readers. Visit him at his website, or on Instagram!