You shouldn’t have such an ironic look on you, dear ladies and gentlemen. It’s nowadays that you can come into a beer house and not get your face broken. Eat a cheburek and not die. Have some beer and not get diarrhea. About twenty years ago, however…
Older Moscow folks don’t cry when they watch stuff about war on TV. Older Moscow folks, who could drink three 0,8 liter bombs of the “Agdam” porto, chasing them with a dozen half-liter beer mugs are people who know how to take risks. And every time you went out into the city hungover it was like going into battle with both cops and bus controllers being the enemy.
The names of beer houses from those days alone make the heart beat faster – “Pinochet”, “Dandelio”, “Belly”. The one who wanted to eat some chebureks needed to be as prepared as a Green Beret. Otherwise things might have easily not ended well.
And the reason was that even if those chebureks did contain meat, then it was better not to think about its origin and freshness. Because when the beer with added soda for better foam was diluted with tap water, that was a good thing. The other possibilities you did not want to know. Because the struggle for the last mug of beer, of which there was never enough, could have ended with a hospital bed. Because a side glance at the beer house kings – grim characters in the corner, having a few beers between prison terms – could result with the loss of money, at best.
Alright, let’s shake it off. Everything fits, nothing is out of place. The wife has my back, working the big camera – they’re not going to think that she’s on a mission. I am using my smart phone. What if? I’m just taking a few selfies for Facebook…
The entrance is a cellar door right in the center of Moscow. Futurism and soviet posters. There is a combined restroom – meaning, for both genders. Also typical. Low ceilings. Shaky tables.
What’s on the menu?
Oh, heavens! Zhigulevskoe, Barkhatnoe (Velvet) beer – those words could raise the dead.
What are the chebureks made with?
– Lamb and beef, – cheerfully answers the lady at the counter.
– Is that right?
– For sure!
We take our place.
Right across from us is a middle-aged couple. She sits one leg on the other, as if in a theater. Her red-faced partner is drinking Zhigulevskoe. From the looks of it, it’s not his first mug, the one that you’re supposed to chug instantly. He drinks it with feeling, with sense, with posture.
A homeless guy in a tattered overcoat is purchasing some herring with onions and borscht.
Herring! My gods! With boiled potatoes! That was served in the best restaurant cars on trains, never, ever in beer houses! Only if you were someone very, very important.
– How’s the herring? – I ask.
– Can’t complain, – answers the old man sensibly – Herring is like from before, yes…
I’ll take it! And chebureks. Five. Three for me, two for the wife.
No, four for me.
– You can’t have three beers! – my wife whispers, – We’re working!
– Exactly – says I, – If I have any less, it’s suspicious…
Vobla! They have vobla here! Do you know what vobla is?
Buy a ticket to Moscow right now.
Prices are very nice. Beer is undiluted. Chebureks are very tasty. Folks around me are cheerful.
Basically, I’m disappointed. Glamour. It’s not the same atmosphere, a counterfeit reality and only two ladies sitting over two bottles of cognac under the “Cheap bread” poster warmed my soul. The ladies were real, authentic, not make-believe.
For old-timers – like having perfume put into your beer.
Theater, not real life.
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Yermolova’s theater not far from here – we went in sixth grade.
“Berezka” ensemble on tour to the USA.
Pornography with soviet uniforms.
I’ll go again tomorrow.
Alone and unarmed.