Frontline, Tbilisi

Every city has its Journalist hangout.  In Tirana it was Fideli’s, a strange cross in décor and ambiance between Beethoven’s opera and Fidel Castro.  There were few working landlines in Tirana at the time, and no mobile phones.  If I wanted to meet a journalist I always went to Fideli’s and usually would find him or her.  My office, effectively, was there.  That bar is long gone, cleaned up when Mayor Edi Rama reclaimed Tirana’s parks.  In Prishtina it was Tricky Dick’s, named after Holbrooke not Nixon, although there is a famous autographed picture of Dick Holbrooke being led into the bar by Bernard Kouchner, the UN Capo, with the inscription “Nice Bar, why did you name it after Richard Nixon?”  Recently the journos have moved on to other places in Prishtina but the memorabilia is still on the wall and last time I was at Tricky Dick’s it still had the best pizza in Kosovo.   In Zagreb it’s the Press Club run by the Journalists’ Association; in Bratislava “Pulitzer’s” is in the Journalists’ Syndicate building, spilling out in the summer into the old moat around the old city.  During the Milosevic era jouros gathered at the Media Center café.  When I was a kid working at WOR in New York we gathered at the Artist and Writers’ Restaurant.  (Only one artist, apparently.)  It was the bar for the New York Herald Tribune and even though it was not cheap even copyboys drank there, as did the WOR news team and the teenaged “summer wonders” like me.  In 1965 New York had an 18 year old drinking age.  While my parents didn’t mind me stopping off after work some parents of Jersey kids were concerned so the kids could always tell their folks they stopped off at the A&W after work.  I myself never had a root beer at the Artist and Writers.

In Tbilisi GIPA, the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, and their Caucasus School of Journalism have opened the “Frontline Café, Tbilisi” hoping it will become the journo hangout here.  It is part of a franchise of press clubs headquartered in London where the Frontline Club not only provides a bar and restaurant, but also rooms to house visiting members.  GIPA got the Frontline Franchise from the mothership and built the café with the help of the Open Society (Soros) Foundation.

There is the café and an adjacent venue for live events, discussions, roundtables, seminars and house concerts to help build the journalist community.  GIPA put the basement to good use to house a classroom and Radio GIPA’s studios.  (That’s right, studios, two of them plus an equipment room for the automation system.)  The whole place is wired so Radio can broadcast from the different venues at Frontline.  IREX, with funding from USAID, funded equipment in the “On Air” studio.  Last time I visited the basement where the studios and classroom now reside and it looked like a war zone.  It was filled with rubble from the construction on the floor above.  When I took a picture with a flash there was so much dust in the air that it looked like an indoor blizzard.

I am still worried about the location.  It is not in the mainstream of traffic and not near either press offices or GIPA’s main campus.  But it is one of those neighborhoods that is gentrifying and, while I don’t see much walk in traffic, a fair number of students were in the café.  It has to work to become a destination.  It will help if the neighborhood really does improve.  It is only 12 minutes from Freedom Square (which is really a circle) but just in the wrong direction.  The former Prime Minister’s private residence and business center is on the hill overlooking Frontline.

But now the refinishing upstairs is done and downstairs is done enough to go on the air for the first time this week.   Radio GIPA still wants to decorate the walls of the studio with art and there is a little work left to do but both the production room and studio are live, the automation system in installed, and  I was fortunate enough to be there when the new studio went “Live” for the first time.

When Salome Apkhazishvili opened the microphone on Monday it was the first time she had been on the air live.  She was launching a new daily public affairs show “Impact,” and this was also the first time the new broadcast console we bought was on the air.   The system worked perfectly.  Salome had pre-recorded programs before but this was different.  After the show she said “I thought I would be nervous, but live performance gave me more freedom.” 

The maiden edition of Impulse dealt with public transit.  The program included two sets of live interviews, one with two women telling funny stories about their experiences on mass transit in Tbilisi and a more serious interview dealing with the problems of mass transit.  Between the interviews she inserted Vox Pop segments talking with people about mass transit.  One asked people on the metro what they were reading.  I love my job.

One thought on “Frontline, Tbilisi

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