Centuries ago, travellers along the Silk Road stayed there and parked their camels inside this circular building.If you are a chap, avoid eye contact with the belly dancers at all costs.It could be just another red carpet bash at a Los Angeles, Paris or West End nightspot.In fact, it is downtown Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, and until now the Baku of beyond. The port on the shore of the Caspian Sea is mushrooming with skyscrapers. Downtown, an array of hoardings advertises D&G and Versace.Baku today is fed up with being just a giant oil terminal and is looking for a new status as a good-time destination. It's an Islamic state, but secularised and it feels very relaxed. It's also a nostalgic smoker's paradise — you can light up after dinner in any restaurant.Culturally, its big claim to fame is the well-preserved old city, a maze of lovely, honey-coloured limestone streets dating back to the Arab conquest, which have been used to stand in for Tehran or Istanbul in countless films.But Baku's residents have demanded an upgrade in their nightlife.
I was told that the last person to have stayed there was the Queen of Denmark (and if so, she pinched the bath plug).Total humiliation is inevitable if you are selected as a gullible tourist and made to shake your belly in time to theirs.The city's covered markets, piled high with fruits, nuts, saffron and exotic spices, are worth a look.When the Bolsheviks took over the city in 1920, they kicked him out and turned it into a museum. The rooms with crystal ceilings, acres of parquet floors, fabrics and furniture are astonishing.Baku is a town which, despite its brash retail dreams, is far from brain dead.By day, you can nurse the hangover that the abundant local vodka gives you in a hammam or steam bath.