Note: This is part of a series. Read part one here.

I looked to my left and right. I was flanked by two British diplomats and an Arab (unknown country of origin), all of whom were surrounded by Eastern European hookers. This was the B Hush bar’s rooftop lounge, Velyka Zhytomyrska Street, 2А, Kiev, Ukraine, and the night was getting interesting.

What makes a good spy bar? Unusually, a high-priced drink menu (to keep locals out), good local security, and an owner or manager who caters to diplomats’ need for discretion. These seem to be among the top traits, in my opinion.

The problem? Most these places are wide-open hunting grounds for the experienced enemy counter-intelligence professional. But I’m not giving a lesson on covert intelligence gathering; I’m not qualified to do so anyway, as I’m just a former SEAL with a bunch of spy friends who talk too much. Tonight, I was out to have fun with my Kiev friends, and see how many crazy spies I could spot.

I always wondered why so many young diplomats from State and the CIA are so awkward abroad, but I guess you have to chalk it up to a lack of life experience. You’d think they’d spend more time training for this at The Farm, but I guess there’s no replacing experience. Not that the young special operations guys abroad are any different; you can spot them by their ball caps, American chewing tabacco, lax grooming standards, extremely yoked-out physiques, and tattoos. You can usually confirm it when the guy looks back at you with a “who the fuck are you looking at” stare. Return the look right back, and it’s usually greeted with an “ah, you’re one too” acknowledgement before you both go about your business. But tonight we’re talking about spy bars, so enough alpha male bullshit for now. Plenty of that for later.

TGI Fridays

We started off at TGI Fridays in downtown Kiev. I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking “no fucking way” myself. I even asked Buck (twice!) if he was bullshitting me. He said again, “Seriously.” He was right.

Photo: Author inside TGI Fridays Kiev, enjoying a cold beverage near two British gents at the bar.

TGI Fridays was pretty tame. It was obvious that this was not a local favorite, but hell, that’s what makes a good spy haunt. No State or CIA worker wants a bunch of locals overhearing them while they bitch about work. I had two beers with my friend and then we were off to meet another friend of ours at the Hilton. Cabbing around Kiev is a strange endeavor; there are plenty of cabs around, but it appeared that unless you called dispatch directly, you couldn’t get one. Most of the idle taxi drivers seemed to be taking a break, and didn’t seem to give a shit about me trying to beg a cab in broken Ukrainian. We were better off using Uklon. Sorry Uber, some young tech guys in Ukraine cloned you guys already, and Uklon was way better than calling the local taxi service. Off to the Hilton.

The Hilton H Bar