From Party Block to Block Party
If you ever find yourself in Tirana, you will certainly pass by Blloku – literally, the Block. It is a central neighbourhood where about 50% of Tirana’s bars and pubs are located. It is where the youth buzzes, where trends start and end, where young businessmen are towering start-ups, where one bar tender is crazier than the other and where music never stops. There is something for everyone in Blloku; you’ll find your small neighbourhood pub where an espresso shot costs 50lek and there’s a football match on the screen 24/7. You can also find your secret-but-not-really underground indie bar, where communist relics are the ultimate hipster deco and where excellent blues is provided at all times. You can also find that upscale lounge that you walk by daily on your way to work, but your paycheck definitely cannot allow.
You’ll see the young generation of artists mounting up their little exhibitions in the hidden side streets. You’ll find a secondhand bookseller – and don’t be surprised if you find a translation of the Red Book among his valuables. Next to him you’ll see a street performer, and next to that, about 3 or 4 cigarette stands. You’ll find your 5 am sufllaqe joint next to the French patisserie and the Japanese buffet bar a little further.
If you walk to the very center of Blloku however, you’ll hold your step in front of a big villa that seems oddly out of place. The architecture will be a little unfamiliar, at contrast with the shiny mirror windows and colour combinations that otherwise surround you. You, my friend, would be standing and looking at nothing less but the house of Albania’s communist leader, Enver Hoxha. Let that idea carry you back 30 years, to the origins of Blloku. Erase all the colours and the music and the noise from the image in your head. Flatten down all those towering buildings and remove the tables and chairs and street artists and God forbid the French restaurant. You have the original Blloku. As of the 50s, this neighbourhood was strictly off-limits to the average citizen, and served instead as the private compound of the politburo. The nomenklatura had installed here their villas and houses, the biggest and most central one being Hoxha’s which is today open and available to the curious eye. It used to be regarded as the most upscale area in town, but a place where you could only dream about stepping into.
As soon as the regime fell however, the gates to Blloku opened and the entire area changed so fast that I, who was born a mere 4 years later, can’t remember anything but running around its streets as my auntie would sip on her morning coffee. Today, barely anyone thinks about Blloku back in the days. It has become a dynamic fast-paced environment where there is almost no time to stop and reminisce, instead you just jump forward and launch your latest creation. If you find yourself there in the summer however, in one of the many Block Parties that fill its streets, take a minute to think about the process of transformation that this area underwent, a symbol of the 24 year young metamorphosis that is Tirana.