I was told by my friends that the Bin Laden bar was old news in São Paulo. Apparently the look-a-like running the place had already had his 15 minutes of fame a few years ago, appearing on a variety of Brazilian TV shows and in many newspapers. I decided to write about the place anyway, expecting it to be of interest to those curious about aspects of the city not so well known.
What I wasn’t expecting, was what happened next!
A few days after I’d posted about the bar, links to whataboutsaopaulo.com could be found on The Guardian, Gawker, The Telegraph and The Huffington Post.
What was going on? I was perplexed.
If you’d have asked me a month or so ago which of my blog posts had the potential to go viral, I’d have put my money on that included a picture of me in a pair of speedos. Surely, you’d have thought, that could have got me a mention in Men’s Health, a Torso of The Week in Heat, or even a spot in Playgirl! Well…..erm, no!
I won’t lie, having a huge increase in traffic to my site over the last week has been a pleasant surprise. A pleasant surprise for me that is, one of my friends who lives next to the bar hasn’t been quite so enthusiastic about the media attention directed at the Bin Laden bar.
“Andrew, you need to help me,” pleaded Carlos last week. “Last night I was walking past the bar on my way home from work, then I heard someone shouting really loudly behind me. I turned around and Bin Laden was running towards me, waving his arms in the air like he was CRAZY!”
“What did he say?” I enquired, sounding suitably concerned.
“He wanted to know about the pictures you and Gabriel took of him last weekend. He wants the newspaper articles to put in frames around his bar. You need to print out ALL of the websites he is on and then give them to him. Maybe then he will stop chasing me.”
“But Carlos” I said, before biting down thoughtfully on my lip. “He is on hundreds of websites now, I can’t print them all. Just tell him to look them up on the internet and then he can find them himself.
“I did” Carlos asserted, “but he says he doesn’t know anything about the internet.”
He let these two words linger in the air long enough for me to realise he was being deadly serious. “I don’t like someone who looks like Bin Laden running up behind me late at night; it makes me feel a little nervous.”
“OK” I assured him, “I’ll print some out and go back there.”
As I’m thinking about this now, the prospect of heading back to the Bin Laden bar really doesn’t excite me. You see, around the time the story went viral I went there with my friend to take some pictures for the Daily Mail. They’d contacted me to ask if I had any high resolution pictures of the place.
“I don’t. BUT my friend lives next to the bar and I’m going round there tonight, so I can take some for you if you like?”
It was only after I’d suggested doing this that something dawned on me. The crappy camera phone with no flash that I was planning to use, well…it probably wasn’t going to produce the sort of picture the second most visited English-language newspaper site in the world would want to print. So I called my photographer friend, Gabriel, and asked if he’d be interested in taking them.
“Andrew, you’re asking if I want to take pictures for The Daily Mail?”
So that evening I found myself back in the Bin Laden bar. As soon as we walked through the door, I noticed a guy with a heavily tattooed face look us up and down from his stool. I instantly felt out of place.
‘Bin’ was behind the bar and he was looking miserable. He was wearing a puffa jacket (the sort Bianca Jackson used to wear on her stall in Eastenders) and he had a beard that seemed to have a life all of its own.
“We would like to take your picture for the Daily Mail,” Gabriel told him.
“What is a Daily Mail?” he asked.
As soon as he was told that it was a British tabloid, his face lit up and his mood changed dramatically. He told us to wait for a moment, then he power walked into a room at the back of the bar; emerging a minute or so later in full Bin Laden costume.
Had there been a smoke machine behind him at this point, his re entrance to the bar would have been as startling as any I’d ever seen on Stars In Their Eyes.
Like a seasoned pro, he then took Gabriel to various places around the bar he thought would give him the him best shots. As soon as the camera lens was raised at him, he’d grin, put his hands up in the air as if he were holding an imaginary watermelon (I don’t remember Bin laden having a signature pose like this, but hey, what do I know!!!) and he enjoyed the next few minutes greedily.
I held my friend’s camera case whilst all of this was going on, contemplating just how random my evening had become. Whilst my friend was snapping away a drunk, elderly woman with no front teeth and a severe case of halitosis marched over to talk to me. She explained how proud she was of Bin Laden, and then…..well, I don’t remember much else she was saying after this. When she began thrusting her large, unsupported breasts against my body, I badly wanted to get away from her! Luckily I was able to do this a minute or so after she’d acquainted herself with me, when Gabriel told me he had all the pictures he needed.
It’s strange to think I might be inadvertently responsible for foreigners descending onto this bar during the World Cup because of this blog. In truth though, this place is the last bar I’d ever want to go to if I were a tourist in the city. Unlike Disneyland where you enjoy the park after you’ve had your picture taken with Mickey; if you’re coming to this bar for your picture with the Brazilian Bin Laden….I’d suggest getting the hell out of there as soon as that flash has gone off! It is certainly NOT a bar for the faint hearted.
A few days later, Gabriel’s pictures were published on the Daily Mail’s online site. As you can imagine, he was buzzing that his pictures had been featured on the sidebar of shame next to someone from TOWIE, who’d been to the opening of an envelope. Not really, he has no idea what TOWIE is…sometimes I wish I were Brazilian!
The next day someone from the BBC show Have I Got News for You emailed asking for permission to use one of these pictures during their show (With the promise of a handsome cheque for Gabriel ), naturally he was more than happy to oblige (that was on last Friday on BBC2) ! As a keen photographer, Gabriel has got one hell of an unexpected story off the back of this Bin Laden bar buzz. I am very pleased about this because not only is he a good friend, but he is also the photographer and designer of my book cover (That luxurious cover below!)…which seamlessly brings me onto the subject of Trying To Understand Brazilian Culture…OUT NOW!
To pick up your copy, you can click right here!