Powder Hound… An Evening at Route 36 – “The World’s First Cocaine Bar”


By Benny Doyle

My chest pulls tight as I pick my pace up to jog, jumping in the last available seat as the taxi begins to speed down the road. Here in Bolivia’s capital, more than 3,600 metres above sea level, the thin air tends to make your body pay for the slightest of exsertions. But tonight it isn’t just the altitude making my heart rate rapid. We are taking a punt on the holy grail of the Gringo Trail’s dark side – Route 36.

La Paz’s most notorious night spot and the only proclaimed ‘cocaine bar’ in the world, Route 36 is quickly taking the mantle from San Pedro Prison as the drug tourism must do in South America…

The taxi driver understands our messy ‘spanglish’ translations and after five minutes of seemingly erratic driving, we stop on an unassuming street unsure of what’s supposed to happen next. But eyes were already following us and with a metallic flash, a roller door released upwards, exposing a long, dimly lit corridor that was blocked by a young Bolivian man. A quick flick of his hand offered us entry, a case of actions first, questions never. We were barely inside as the door crashed down behind us, their secret once again safe to the outside world. We followed the man into the darkness…

What I witness over the next eight hours were scenes that I thought urban myth before the night, this lost club of legal cocaine coming into fruition from every story I had heard along the ‘Gringo Trail’. The filthy cave like setting with dated furniture, kitsch mirrors and disco lighting, the utterly confusing music that ranged from Tiesto and The Vengaboys to The Beatles and The Stones. The booth loads of backpackers – English, Brazilian, Irish, Kiwi and many, many Australians, all chatting, all smiling.

Then of course there was the cocaine. Served by a petite and mildly attractive 40 something Bolivian woman, she came to the table, greeted us politely, and then with our drink order followed the choice for a new generation; normal or strong, 100 or 150 Boliviano (13 – 19AUD). The sequence of service was executed like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Is this a new experience for fearless gen Y? Or just an easy way to get ‘banged up abroad’, a backpacker term for foreign incarceration? Whatever you think, travelling is about new encounters for individual fulfilment. This means that people are more open to trying new things whilst on the road, illegal substance abuse included. Yes it’s extremely risky and dangerous but it’s also a once in a lifetime moment that you can’t quite believe is happening. Good luck finding the club though. It moves every few weeks so authorities can’t shut it down… yet.


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