Russia, March 16, 1999
With this kinda night life, why wake up before midnight?
|Ah, the night life of Moscow! As far as I can tell
that is the main reason quite a number of expats stay here past the
initial Wow Russia! stage. Yes, like Newsweek said last summer,
Moscow is happening!
Until quite recently, Russia did not have a club scene at all. The communists were a little scared of crowds, and therefore only small bars were allowed to operate. The bars were expensive, and never had much beyond a few bottles of questionable beer, so people had dinner parties instead. The Russian dinner party is similar to our dinner parties, where everyone sits around the dinner table and gets drunk over dinner. This tradition still survives here, and I find them much more fun an exciting than our dinner parties. The Russians enjoy honest, contentious conversation, unlike the fake small talk of an American dinner party, where the number and intensity of arguments and debates are proportional to the number of vodka shots served. No matter how loud you are, or how tightly you have to hold the toilet bowl later, as long as you speak your mind and accept you neighbours honest opinion, no one holds a grudge the next morning.
I would go to Russian diner parties every night of the week, but my job and limited Russian language skills prevent me from enjoying them as much as I would like too. When I need a bit of that Western decadence, I head to the clubs and bars of Moscow. Some of the clubs here are amazing in the freedom the customers are allowed. The most gratuitous is the Hungry Duck and it is so unique you'll have to read about it at The Duck. The rest run the gamut from Rave to.. well, Propaganda.
Pilot is a standard Rave club, similar to Mars in Cocoa Beach, Fl, and all the random whorehouses of the Rave club scene. Like Mars it was an old movie theatre, now devoid of its seats, with a projection screen showing computer animation instead of Soviet propaganda. Unlike Mars, Factory Visuals was not there to give the animation the musically choreographed twist the Factory is so famous for. Oh, also unlike Mars the DJ was weak, and the music was disjointed. He would play a few good rave/techno songs, then put on a slow dance song, destroying the high energy, sweat inducing, techno groove. I guess it does add the romance moment missing from a techno night experience, but the dancing purist in me was appalled.
It could have been any random Rave club except for the strip show and dance show. At 2 am, just when I was starting to find the super groove, the music changed and out came a Russian dey'v. She proceeded to strip down to a G-string (thong), dancing around the stage. She was followed by several more women, in less and less (as if there could be less than a thong) until full female nudity was on display. A few men braved the moment and joined the women on stage, with one woman stripping the man to his Speedoes and another woman running offstage to get away from the freak. The women in our group were not impressed, and I was kinda annoyed at the scene, but the Russian men could barely containing themselves at the sight of bare breasts on the stage.
Before, and after, the strip show there was a dance show, women before, and men after. The women were doing the Rebook Step, Class #2, while the men were straight from New Kids on the Block, with a twist of Marky Mark. I found it distracting more than anything, but they were good visual instructors to the plethora of bad dancers. I wish Soul Train, or at least American Bandstand was on Russian TV, then there could be a larger percentage of decent dancers to crowd the floor.
Propaganda could be the best club in Moscow, except for one huge problem. It looks like a regular club, and the people are very European, but the music is horrible. Every time I go there, I want to shoot the DJ. He ruins a great club with his musical selection and mixing abilities. Prodigy, the B-52's, The Village People, and LL Cool-J should not be played in that order, and defiantly should not be repeated twice in one night!
The bars are where this country excels. Russians know how to drink, and they do it often. The bars can be Russian dives, devoid of anything beyond a liquor rack, they can be New Russian theme bars, with fake palm trees, or they can be more cosmopolitan than anything New York has to offer.
At every metro exit, and on random street corners are the Russian dives, complete with the dark tint windows and burly men standing around. Once inside, the waitress will serve you a meal and a beer, acceptable, but as tasty as the low prices will allow. Flashing neon lights and bright paint will lead you to the New Russian bars. Expect to spend all your money, and risk your life, while watching groups of men in black leather coats brag about their financial accomplishments and sexual exploits. If you know where to look, or read the eXile, you can be lucky enough to find the true gems Moscow has to offer.
One of my favorites, better than almost all of the bars I frequented in the States, is Krisis Zhanra. It is hidden away on a back street, and chock full of the next generation of the Russian intellectual elite. Every time I go there I hear more languages, and meet more interesting people than I ever have an any Eurorail train. Korean film students, a German TV producer, and the daughter of the mayor of Novgorod, to name a few. I think I, a plausibly bi-lingual American accountant, am the most ignorant person there in the afternoons I drop by.
Thinking about it, the night life is one of the main reasons I stay in Russia too. Miami, DC, and the whole Orlando-Cocoa beach scene, just can't compare to the full frontal assault of a Moscow night!