A fountain that dispenses vodka, for free, for ten minutes a day? It sounded too good to be true.
Our research on what to do in Batumi had uncovered some unusual information, and it was with great excitement that we sped out of Turkey and into the Promised Land to discover more about a mysterious “Chacha Fountain”.
For the uninformed, chacha is the national drink of Georgia. It is distilled from grapes and, in true national drink style, is usually homemade. Some compare it to grappa, some vodka, and some brandy. It’s in the same hard-hitting leagues as Hungary’s palinka and Balkan rakija, and we absolutely wanted to try it as soon as possible.
According to various sources on the internet, Batumi’s Chacha Tower was actually the brainchild of the city government, and they spent a reported half-a-million dollars to build it.
We found a brilliant and inspiring quote from the chairman of the Batumi City Council:
It will be a tower fountain, where instead of water the Georgian chacha will flow, and everyone – our citizens, foreign visitors and tourists – will have the opportunity to taste it.
Georgia, what a place.
The fountain was opened in October 2012 to much fanfare, but we unfortunately couldn’t find any certifiably recent information on the chacha situation. Some sources online said it dispensed drink for 10 minutes from 7pm every day, others said once a week (Thursday? Saturday? Sunday?). One source reported (accurately, we later found) that usually there is a queue of “regulars” with whom you have to battle to get your booze, and that you should bring your own cup.
After a drive through a storm and across borders, at 6:40pm we found ourselves in front of the legendary tower. It was actually a pretty impressive building; an ornate white clock tower flanked on its three sides by pools of water, at the base of each was a tall metal cylinder imprinted with the words “CHACHA FOUNTAIN“.
Just as the internet had said, there was a group of middle-aged men who looked down on their luck, huddled at one of the gated arches of the tower. They obviously knew what they were doing, and had placed a plastic cup at the mouth of one of the silver fountains in front of the motion sensor. Mook offered them cigarettes and they gratefully accepted. They were even more excited than we were about the promised onslaught of FREE CHACHA.
The rain had turned the grass around the fountain into a swamp. People occasionally passed by the fountain towards the waterfront, stealing glances at us out of the corner of their eyes as they gingerly stepped around puddles. Some tourists took photos in front of the tower then left. The clock ticked closer to 7pm.
Another tourist couple came to snap some photos, but actually hung around with their eyes on the clock. It turns out that they were also from Germany, in Georgia for their honeymoon and very interested in the promise of FREE CHACHA. There is just something about Germans and fountains that dispense free alcohol.
The sky grew darker as the clock ticked towards 7pm and the Chacha Tower automatically illuminated, rotating through rainbow colours in a delightful yet silent announcement that soon, we would all have cups filled to the brim with Georgia’s national pride. And we had it all to ourselves: us, the German couple, and the four bums. We could almost taste the chacha victory.
The Chacha Tower clock’s hands moved to indicate seven o’clock in chacha time, but the cup placed inside the chacha fountain remained still. We looked at the Georgian dudes. They shrugged and motioned us to just wait, just wait. And we waited, but soon it was 7:10pm and nothing had happened. We couldn’t figure it out–does it turn on automatically, do people come and make some kind of speech about Georgia and turn it on, or what?
Two other Georgian men approached; non-descript in every way except that it looked like they weren’t waiting for vodka to magically come pouring out of a faucet in the middle of a park. They said something to the bums, who immediately looked disappointed. One of the guys approached us and in his best English explained:
“No chacha today.”
“Because of big rain, so much water underground.” He motioned at the tower. “No chacha can come out with so much water.”
Okay, so the thing is flooded, fair enough. We had driven through streets that looked like small lakes on our way to Batumi, and by the looks of things the country didn’t have the best infrastructure or engineering prowess. But when could we drink the chacha??
“Today is rain, tomorrow.. maybe rain. Come visit me in two days and there is chacha.”
Mook was especially deflated, his grand vision of free vodka, pouring out of a fountain like tears from heaven into a pool where he could lay with his mouth open wide, was smashed. We didn’t really want to spend three more days in Batumi–the rest of Georgia awaited.
So despite all the hype, we never got to see if the Chacha Fountain is really still functioning or not. We considered moving on to Tbilisi then hopping back to Batumi later to check it out. But Georgia’s roads are pretty shit, and their drivers are even worse, and after a rough drive to the other side of the country we decided against heading back to Batumi for unconfirmed free chacha.
Because really, chacha flows freely in the rest of Georgia. Not from fountains, but from glass and plastic bottles that are filled and then emptied by the awesome, booze-loving people who make it. Who needs a chacha fountain?
(But if you have confirmation that the Chacha Tower is still functioning, pleeeeease let us know!)