The Italian Club in Lafayette has been a major eating-and-drinking fixture in my life these last three years, so it’s sad to report that the place looks like it’s on its last legs.
After you’ve charmed your way past the bouncers at the front door and scaled the first flight of stairs, you arrive at a first-floor bar. For a long time this was the pub to go to in the district if you didn’t want a venue that was either (1) a smoky dive full of crabbit old men, (2) an ultra-bland hotel bar, or (3) an expensive club-bar reverberating with deafening music and populated by ageing, full-of-themselves playboys. The Italian Club bar was endearingly bohemian in character. Many of its clientele were bearded student-types and – a rarity among Tunis’s pub scene – it drew a fair number of women too. There was no music and you could actually have a sensible conversation, although the Italian sports channel on the inevitable TV screen was turned up a little too loud when there was football on.
If you ascend two more flights of stairs to the very top of the building, you find yourself at a rather good Italian restaurant. In its day, the Italian Club restaurant attracted a lot of expatriate diners – indeed, it was about the only venue in Lafayette visited by as many foreigners as locals. Accordingly, the menu was a tad pricy (especially if you fancied some wine), but it was worthwhile if you wanted to have a proper night out.
Alas, the Italian Club has taken a nosedive in the past year. The bar has seemingly lost 99% of its clientele. This was partly due to the beer being cheekily bumped up from three dinars a bottle to five dinars within the space of a couple of weeks; partly due to a decision to change the personnel behind the counter that, reportedly, was unpopular; and, I suspect, partly due to the opening of a rival bar on the seventh-floor terrace of the Pacha Hotel ten minutes’ walk away. During my handful of visits to the Italian Club pub in 2013, it was so empty that I felt like I was drinking in the on-board bar of the Marie Celeste. The restaurant seems to have lost its appeal too. When I took a group to it last month, we had the place to ourselves for the entire evening.
Still. It was fun while it lasted.