Gorbachev pays surprise visit to bar

? Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Gorbachev walks into a bar …

Seriously, it really happened – Saturday night, in this small town in central Kansas.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, made an unscheduled stop at Ol Stuga, a Lindsborg bar and restaurant, after spending the day in the community of 3,200 promoting Chess for Peace, an international initiative to find common ground among people of different cultures.

The events included a parade, a chess match between world champions Anatoly Karpov and Susan Polgar, a fundraising dinner and an evening program at Bethany College in which Gorbachev and Alan Murray, assistant managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, had a conversation over a chess board.

Later that night, Jason Hajek and some friends were at a large table at Ol Stuga, talking about an alumni basketball game they had just watched at the college. The door opened and in walked an official-looking man wearing an earpiece.

He was followed, moments later, by Gorbachev.

“I talked to one of the security men and I told him we’ve laughed about this for weeks, just kidding about how we needed to stock up on vodka because Gorbachev was coming,” said Mark Lysell, who has owned the tavern for 28 years.

The security agent, he said, responded, “So were we.”

Gorbachev and his party, including his daughter, an interpreter and his security detail, arrived at the bar less than half an hour after the program at the college.

Wes Fisk, the Chess for Peace publicity chairman, said the former Soviet leader wanted some place he could go out for a drink. Fisk said Gorbachev’s security people suggested they could arrange something at the bed and breakfast where Gorbachev and his party were staying.

“He said ‘No, no, I want to go where the people go,”‘ Fisk said.

“There were a lot of surprised people there when that entourage walked in.”

People in the bar stood up and applauded. Hajek and members of his group quickly got up to make their table available.

“He went around and shook all of our hands,” said Hajek, a Bethany alumnus who now teaches and coaches basketball in Hugoton.

“He can’t speak very much English, so he nodded his head like he was telling us ‘Thank you.”‘

Some people began taking photos, and many got autographs.

Kansas Highway Patrol officers had closed off Main Street for a block in either direction while the Russians were in the bar – about 45 minutes.

Gorbachev had a couple of vodkas mixed with cranberry juice.

“He was drinking Swedish vodka,” Lysell said. “He didn’t need to know that. We didn’t tell him.”