Walk down the now famous, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, past the cabaret on Rue de Marseille, and through the unmarked entrance of a discrete building into a florescent-lit hallway. By the time you are halfway up the winding staircase, you will begin to realize that you have stumbled across a hidden treasure of Tunis. Officially called JFK, but affectionately known as “The Underground” or “The Communist Bar” by it’s patrons, this bar/restaurant seems more like a scene from the movie Road House than a staple of Tunisian nightlife.
Billowing with smoke and rattling with the sound of glasses clanking, people talking, and music pumping, JFK is a place where the beer is cheap (2.5 TD), the food is good, and atmosphere is eclectic. From the silent old man in the corner slowly puffing on his cigarette, to the young lady dancing to her favorite reggae song; from the couple flirting on the couch, to the men passionately discussing politics – JFK’s best feature is it’s clientele. It is a place where it is not unusual to spot a popular blogger, musician, activist, or lawyer – and you can always find a lively crowd.
Originally a cinema built in the 1970′s, the building where JFK is located was turned into a Hotel in 1972. However, due to a law that requires the preservation of Tunisian cultural centers, the cinema remained open on the first floor of the hotel. JFK was created as the hotel’s disco, and remained as such until around 2005 when it was renovated and turned into a bar. In the years during and around the Tunisian revolution, JFK gained a reputation as a dangerous, criminal hang out – thus ruining the image of the hotel. In an effort to improve the hotel’s reputation, JFK implemented a policy of restricting it’s guest list to journalists, intellectuals, and artists (a policy that is still upheld today from time to time when the bar is overly crowded). It was from this policy that JFK began to attract it’s sophisticated clientele and earned it’s notoriety as “The Communist Bar”.
Though remnants of the wild-west type ambience of JFK’s past can still be felt when you visit the bar, it’s not a place where someone will feel entirely unsafe. Additionally, it’s the raucous environment that helps to create the experience of JFK.
During most the the weekend, finding a place to sit at JFK is usually a hassle. So, it is not unheard of to spend the evening standing or sitting on a plastic crate. Be that as it may, the experience is worth the minor inconvenience for an interesting night out.