1) A bottle of vodka. My New Year’s eve trip to Russia started in airport with a typical inconvenience, typical back in an old country that you could be prepared to, yet when it actually happens it always takes me aback. Huge line to registration, OK, I can take that, especially in the company of my friends. Apparently some Indian airline gone broke, so the plane was flooded with Indians going back home through Moscow carrying huge amounts of luggage, bags, suitcases and boxes. I knew it would be silly to buy a bottle of vodka to take to Russia as a gift, yet my gut feeling told me that I would definitely need it. On a plane I tried to shove my bag and duty free alcohol into overhead compartment, all in vein. All my attempts to clear the space just lead to spilling somebody else shampoo on some poor guy, who started complaining rather loud, immediately plane attendant joined our little screaming party, along with a neighbor of a shampoo guy, self proclaimed intelligent, who start urging everybody behave intelligently. I wished for her to find a new job and Aeroflot to go broke. All this commotion was settled half an hour later, in the mid air, when my friend persuaded me to open a duty free bottle. I made peace with a shampoo guy, his neighbor happen to go to the same college as me, and flight attendants were bringing us juice and even had a round of drink with us. I came to Moscow on 31st already drunk.
2) Have a passport on you at all times and don’t use excedrin. (Excedrin is a powerful painkiller with a large letter ‘E’ engraved on every pill). In Moscow I’ve been stopped and thoroughly frisked and searched by cops, as I’ve never been before. It happened in front of a nightclub, and I was lucky to have my passport on and to use a pill of excedrin to cure my hangover couple hours before. I don’t know what would happen to me if cops would find a pill with a letter ‘E’ in my pocket. I presume they were looking for drugs. Why did they stop me? What happened was that I was meeting a very good Armenian friend and a roommate of mine in college whom I did not see for almost 10 years. While we were students, one year, by a strike of luck, he got rich and, when I was leaving Moscow, he was building a nightclub in the center of the city. I was happy to find him alive and well considering the fate of many Moscow businessmen. He did not become a tycoon, yet, he a full head of gray hair and a sense of measure. He appeared all dressed in Armani/Versace and accompanied by a silent beauty in fishnet stalking whom he called Kate. After a good dinner and a lot of conversation he decide to show me good time. We went to a nightclub “Ministerstvo”, see short description below. We were in a good car driven by a person of Caucasus appearance when cops pulled us over. So, I don’t know about excedrin but having some sort of identification on you is a good thing. And by the way the club sucked.
3) Few words about venues in Moscow that I visited following recommendation of Muscovites. I found out that there are several new words in a vocabulary of a partygoer in Moscow. For example a “normal” place is a place where you have remote chances of getting in, or a place without much hype (or “pafos”).
· Kitaiskij letchik Dzao Dza. One of the many basement clubs/pubs (like Gogol, or project Ogi) that close really late. You can spend the whole night there if you have strength or insomnia. This is a place to eat decent food for a decent price. Drinks are inexpensive. Often there is life music. Co-owner of the club plays with his band: "Papernyi Tam". It's one of the better ska that I heard recently and a mixture of Latin beat. The crowd is trendy, lots of students, artisans. People are very friendly, quite often one could start conversation that spreads over many tables. A+
· (PZh) parizhskaya zhizn`. Place claims that it's "normal", with no hype. But it is all actually about hype. Drinks are expensive. Make sure you dress well, or you won't get in. However you could get lucky there, pick up factor is strong and it is expected for people to flirt. B-
· Project Ogi . Originally it’s a mix of a pub and a 24-hour bookstore organized by a publishing company OGI. The original location was at Potapovsky pereulok in a yard without any distinct sign (Potapovsky 8/12 Bldg. 2). Now it’ve been expanded into a chain of pubs and restaurants, “PirOGI”. Most of them are located in a basement and have lots of rooms; one room is always dedicated to a bookstore, where you could find very good selections of books and records. Food is good, especially pirogi, mushroom soup, cheap vodka and beer. I recommend ordering absinthe. The place is open around the clock and depending on the time of the day or the night you come in, you could either read books, drink coffee, have lunch or dinner or, chat, dance and drink. Crowd is trendy and friendly. At OGI life music is being played almost every night. A+
· Ministerstvo. The time of ravishing huge nightclubs with insanely expensive cover charge is gone. Now the most popular clubs are small and free, it's just you would not be able to get in there without the club card. Or without knowing the owner. We got into this clubs only because my Armenian friend knew to say magical words, "Call Zahar, now!" that open the doors. The club was very similar to expensive flashy clubs that you could find in any big city with, perhaps, bigger than usual number of beautiful people dressed well. B
· Bunker. It’s a place on Tverskoy, restaurant, pub, sushi bar on a second and club in a basement, all in one place. I only chose this place because it was right next to my hotel ‘Central`naya’. By the way, this hotel is probably the best deal you could have for accommodation in the center, it’s about $30/night. It’s all if you don’t mind inconvenience of shared shower and bathroom. But hey, it’s still better than youth hostels in Mexico. Anyhow, back to Bunker. The crowd that came in that night for the life music, and for the dancing was a mixture of everyone. Students, tourists, Mafia look-alike’s, but in general, everybody is pretentious. B-
4) Mix your drinks yourself. In a week I’ve been clubbing in Moscow I did not find a place that could make a decent martini. It might be that it is considered a hypocrisy to ask for a cocktail drink in a Russian bar. After all it is all going to be mixed in your stomach. So it happened, I and couple of my friends from NYC we got together somewhere after New Year. We started on Tverskoy Boulvard with absinthe then walked towards Ohotnyi riad near Red Square. The whole area changed since I’ve been there last time, there were some new gates near Red Square, new underground mall. Ohotnyi had many cafes and bars with decent German and Russian beer and lots of beautiful girls to gaze at. It was a wonderful weather not too cold and snow falling on a red square. We threw snowballs at each other, run and fool around. It’s all did not prevent us from congregating around us a company of pretty girls. Next thing I know my friends and our little harem are smoking hookah in hotel “Russia” and mixing our own drinks. Let me tell you can make pretty crazy combinations if you have imagination.
5) Summary. Beautiful people, show on Red Square, absinthe, good coffee, grim faces, and sludge on streets and billboards with Putin portrait.