Mile-High Pub: Happy Hour in the Himalayas

Potent cocktails, a packed house and a cover band playing Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" should have been enough to get the party started.

But really, it was a pint-sized Nepalese girl (approximately eight years old) and her contagious dance moves who got the crowd moving.

Within a few moments of the her unusual twirling jumps — think figure skating without the skates — several dozen adults fought for space on the dance floor, some standing on chairs, throwing back their heads and shouting along.

Most of the grown-ups were here to blow off steam after completing exhausting treks in the region. While the Rum Doodle is a place where locals and ex-pats meet for a drink, it is, above all else, the place to come after a climb.

Part party place, part history lesson, the Rum Doodle is unlike any other.

"Many people come in here and they don't have fingers," said Yog "Yogi" Rajbhandari, manager of the Rum Doodle, describing his clientele. That's because losing digits on hands and feet is a common side affect from the severe frostbite many climbers suffer.

Nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas and crushed in between China and India, Nepal is a hiker's paradise, offering a launching point for attempts to climb the world's highest peaks, including the tallest of all, Mount Everest.

The Rum Doodle is decorated with Abominable Snowman paper "footprints" that climbers sign, sometimes adding a story or two about their adventures. The walls are decorated with newspaper clippings with headlines such as "Bigfoot Killed on Mount Everest" and "I Love Bigfoot." A shrine to the Hindu god Ganesha is surrounded by lit candles. A tent on one end of the bar makes for a romantic-looking make-out spot.

Throughout the bar are protective glass cases displaying the signatures of climbers, including Sir Edmund Hillary, Rob Hall, Gary Ball, Tenzing Norgay, Ang Rita Sherpa, Vemura Naomi and David Breshears. It is believed to be the world's largest collection of mountaineers' signatures. Former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter ate here in 1985. Carter's signed footprint is on the wall.

Included among the signatures is that of Reinhold Messner, one of the world's best climbers. In 1978, he became the first climber to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen.

"I met him many times, but I never looked for his fingers," said Yogi, unaware that Messner had seven toes and three fingers amputated after a climb in which his brother had died. "His friend came in here and took all of his fingers," said Yogi, pointing to Messner's Abomimable Snowman footprint sans toes.

Rajbhandari has worked at Rum Doodle since the bar opened in 1979. Back then, employees used to stand on the street, trying to lure customers with coupons for free rum punch.

But in 1984, with the help of a bartender who knew how to make "fancy cocktails like screwdrivers," said Yogi, referring to the simple orange and vodka drink that was considered exotic in Nepal, the madras- and polo shirt-wearing set in the 1980s anointed the Rum Doodle the happening place.

Today the menu offers drinks like Pong's Revenge, a potent mix of rum, vodka, gin, tequila and orange juice. There's also the Egg Nogg, with rum, brandy, raw eggs, milk and sugar. (Salmonella anyone?) Yogi even has a drink named after him, the Yog Special, which mixes orange lemon, squash, sprite, soda and cream.

Bishnu Subedi, who runs Nature Trails, a travel and expedition guide company, brings many of his clients to the Rum Doodle after a trek.

"We come here and kind of set some dreams," Subedi said. "OK, next year climb 7,000 meters or we go to Tibet and climb a little bit higher."

When climbers summit Everest, they make their way to the Rum Doodle with two passport-sized photographs so Yogi can enter them into the records books he has kept since 1982 and create an "Everest Summiteers Club" card, which offers them free food for life at the Rum Doodle. Nowadays, Yogi said, he confirms the Everest ascents with the Nepal Tourism Board because many people arrive at the Rum Doodle pretending to have summitted the mountain.

Sitting by candlelight during one of Kathmandu's periodical power outages, Wongchu Sherpa eats his free chicken chili dinner. He reached the top of Everest in 1993 and 1995.

"All climbers come here to eat and drink," Sherpa said. "You don't have anything in Kathmandu like this. Lots of history here. The footprints mean many things. This is a lucky place."

In the past, climbers received "free drinks for life," but a few took advantage, got really drunk and broke into a fistfight. After that, it was just the food.

In the spring, it's a reservations-only situation on the weekends. But from May 15-30, it's nearly impossible to get in because that's when the Everest climbers are all in town.