Photo by Maciej Korsan
Panting for a bit of excitement? For a face controlled glass and metal funhouse with wall-to-wall videos showing MTV and the latest techno blasting out? Ice cold Carlsberg on tap and thronging with the expat crowd?
Of course not–unless you’re sixteen that is!
We need to be making our entrance in the class of place that Albert Camus would have quaffed a few Pernods in–had he lived in Moscow in the 21st Century. And that means giving the middle-digit to those bars that proliferate in this capital: so called “Irish bars”, things calling themselves “anglisky pab” and anything like an American diner. Leave these to the business travellers and tourists which they are targeted at, and say a big “da, pazhaulsta” to watering holes which show some local colour but where they are not going to bite our legs for being “inastranitz”–and which will not unburden us of too many of our roubles.
After arduous research, here are my six of the best of such establishments.
Nomer adin resides in the unlikely setting of the rather modern south-west of the city in Yugo Zapadnaya. A few yards to the north of the Metro, and set back from Vernadskovo Ulitsa, we can find a ground floor cabin called Sverchok. Despite having a vague Eastern European aspect about it, the subdued and laid-back murky burnt orange interior is full of haphazard retro Soviet junk. Here the stately Nadezhda can serve us us some Zhigulevskoye–a Kazan beer–or Budweiser or even Kvass, all at about 130 to 180 roubles per litre. Otherwise, a jukebox provides the main entertainment.
For the second in line we need to venture north-west along the Purple line to Barikadnaya and then run up Sadovaya Kudrinskaya Ulitsa. Patriarchy Ponds, which is just off that road, deserves its picturesque reputation. The square also provides the backdrop to many of the dramatic events in “Master and Margarita”, such as the beheading of Berlioz by a tram.
At the far end of the pond, however, sandwiched between Austrian eateries and salubrious salons, lies a small Dutch bar named De Nachtwacht. The unpretentious appearance of this den belies its atmosphere. Gezeillighed is the name that the Dutch give to its type of cosiness.
The beer on offer is the Dutch standard: Heineken. Or perhaps we would prefer a Heineken? Should we be feeling adventurous we could even try a glass of…Heineken. Nevermind: Heineken is good, and a cheery Dutch-English speaking barman presides over it all, which helps to draw an international clientele.
For number three we must jump onto the Brown line and then the Green one and shoot in a south-east direction all the way down to Avtozavodskaya. Here we pile out in the direction the train is going, exit the metro station and cross the road to Ulitsa Masterkova, and keep our eyes peeled for the Crown-and-Tankard logo. This announces the presence of Straszeck, a Czech beer bar that is upstairs in a shopping mall.
The place is roomy and dark and, should you be in luck, someone will be playing live piano. The male bar staff are efficient and ply us with free pretzels. At about 460 roubles a litre, the beer is good quality non-hangover inducing fare, and brewed on site. Then when you need to pay a call, check out the cheeky lavatory art.
To experience nomer chetyre we are obliged to retread our steps and make our way back to Yugo-Zapadnaya and take Pokryshkina Ulitsa as though we were headed for the petrol station there. Instead, if we look to our right we espy a shopping complex. On the bottom floor we notice the words One More Pub, in English.
This is the only place that I know where they welcome us as we come in. Otherwise it is a large, but homely, hideout and offers an impressive spectrum of world ales. I recommend the fun and light Litovel, a Czech Pilsener. The curious interior decor makes for a good talking point too.
To get to the fifth option we should take the Green metro exit at Novokuznetskaya and stagger our way up that main road, as towards the Kremlin. Soon we will see, in Cyrillic, an inn called Punch and Judy. Whilst not promoted as an “Anglisky pab”, this offers the most accomplished ‘British zone’ that I have yet come across–like a bar in central Londongrad–and brings in a young and modish type of drinker.
If you are a Brit, the exhibition of beer mats will bring tears of homesickness to your eyes, as might the chosen-with-care background music which hosts the likes of Dépêche Mode and Stereophonics. Even the (somewhat pricey) beer selection includes some quite uncommon real ales from my home country (although I settle for the Budweiser). The bar maids, however, come clad in strange short skirted tartan uniforms. (Needless to say, I have lodged a formal complaint about this un-Britishness!)
To patronise my final choice it is back onto the Green Line and, trying not to fall asleep en route, four stops southwards to Kalushskaya. There, if we get out at the exit that has yet another damned shopping mall, we see, opposite this, a large venue called (in Cyrillic) John Silver.
Themed pubs appear to be a Moscow trend, and the “Treasure Island” focus explains the rope festooned inside, and the maps of buried treasures on the walls, as well as the life size models of gurning pirates which guard the entrance. After an Amstel–the other Dutch beer which John Silvers specialises in–we will begin to find that all this makes perfect sense. Then we can sit outside in their spacious chair-lined front yard, and watch the Masses going by doing their Important Work….
Thus concludes our tour of the taverns of Moscow. It only remains to say: Pyey da dna!