A Nightlife Guide To Moscow

An overview of nightlife in Moscow including dining, drinking, dancing, and other entertainments.

Moscow is one of the fastest evolving cities in the world. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, an influx of foreign travelers and businessmen poured into Russia and changed it forever. Moscow, a once dowdy and uninspired city, has become a bustling center for tourism and entertainment, attracting travelers from all over the world. After a busy day of sightseeing, the modern traveler to Moscow could find himself overwhelmed with entertainment choices once the sun has gone down.

Those who enjoy a good meal out will not be disappointed with the Moscow restaurant scene. With restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars on every corner and in between, diners have their choice of cuisines from all over the world. The closer you are to the center, the more dining establishments you will find and the more varied the cuisine will be. The current rage in Moscow is sushi, which can be found on menus of hundreds of restaurants, even those that are not otherwise Asian inspired. Italian is also gaining in popularity and well as Indian, Thai, Chinese, French, German, or almost any other fare you crave.

If you are searching for a more traditional Russian meal, opt for a higher-class Russian restaurant such as Puskin, Gudynov, or Yar; the food and the ambiance are well worth the high prices. Russians go to the restaurant to celebrate and typically spend hours at the table eating, drinking and talking. Having dinner in a Russian restaurant is an all-evening and into-the-night event.

Unlike most European cuisines, Russian puts a heavy emphasis on appetizers, called zakuski. A Russian table is customarily filled with salads, pickles, and hot appetizers; all placed in the center of the table at the start of the meal. Diners begin their meal by serving themselves from these various appetizer dishes and continue to nibble on them throughout the meal. The king of all Russian zakuski is caviar, usually served with Russian-style crepes called blini. Caviar is a good deal cheaper in Russia than elsewhere, but still expensive.

Before the main course arrives, Russians like to enjoy a bowl of soup. Most people are familiar with borsch which is, in fact, the most popular soup in Russia. Every establishment and Russian housewife has a unique recipe for this time-honored dish, so trying different borsches is always an eating experience. Soup in Russia is always served with a dollop of mayonnaise or sour cream floating in the center of the bowl. This should be stirred in to make the soup creamy.

The main course usually features meat or fish which can be fried or baked and a side dish. Some Russian specialties include sturgeon, chicken Kiev, and beef Stroganoff. Typical sides are potatoes, grains or cabbage. Both white and Russian black bread, which has an intense rye flavor, will be brought to the table to be enjoyed with the meal. Russians, typically, do not spread their bread with butter, so do not expect it to be served.

Vodka is not just an after dinner drink, but can be consumed before during and after the meal as well as wine, juice and mineral water. Soft drinks are widely available, but not part of the conventional Russian meal. Foreigners are often surprised to find that soft drinks are served slightly warm and without ice unless ice is requested. Russians like to finish the meal with tea rather than coffee and desert is often overlooked.

If clubbing is more your scene, the center of Moscow is filled with dance clubs, live-music clubs, and strip clubs. Most clubs charge a cover charge and the bigger, better, hipper the club, the higher the entrance fee. Face-control is stringent at most Moscow night clubs. Moscow clubs are notorious for refusing entrance to anyone whose look doesn't meet the bouncers' standards. The preferred attire in most clubs is very dressy, especially for women. Russian women tend to dress much more lavishly and seductively than westerners. Many clubs stay open all night and most action takes place well after midnight. Almost any type of club that originated in the West can now be found in Moscow, including gay clubs.

Clubs in Moscow are quickly gaining notoriety for being more intense, loud, and crazy than their counter-parts in Europe and America. Developers are willing to pour vast amounts of money into creating the largest and fanciest clubs being built today. Club owners and designers are unafraid of pushing the limits of entertainment and d├ęcor. One club is famed for having live alligators roaming around under the glass dance floor. Another takes its inspiration from Soviet Era prisons with staff dressed as police and prisoners. Sections of the club are zoned off with barbed wire and guarded by angry watchdogs. Keep in mind that due to high competition, a club that is hot today can fizzle out tomorrow, so many open and close in a short period of time. It is advisable to pick up a club guide before heading out. These can be found on the free newsstands at most hotels and eating establishments and are usually printed in English.

Though drinking has always been a popular sport in Moscow, few bars were in business before the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, however, they can be found in abundance and most of them are western inspired. For example, Irish pubs are quite popular with both foreigners and Russians. Two long established Irish pubs are Rosie O'Grady's and Sally O'Brien's, both located just steps away from The Kremlin. Moscow has British-style pubs, American bars, and German Beer Halls. If you are searching for something a bit more chic, there are countless modern cocktail lounges popping up all over the city as well as cigar and martini bars.

Gambling is legal in Moscow and one can find anything from cheap slot halls to first-class casinos. There are currently over fifty casinos in Moscow, more than in any other European city. Five full-service casinos can be found on the one half-mile strip along Novy Arbat Street alone, as well as several slot-hall operations. Most casinos and slot halls are open 24 hours a day. Be advised that the more posh casinos will charge a hefty cover charge and have high minimum bets on most tables. Fine alcohol and appetizers are provided free of charge while the guest is gambling. These casinos are frequented by both foreigners and high profile New Russians. These so called New Russians made large fortunes since the fall of the Soviet Union and spend their money copiously. In contrast, in the slot halls you are more likely to find lower to middle class Russian men and women smoking heavily and drinking cheap Russian beer.

Muscovites are crazy over bowling. There are now dozens of bowling centers all over the city. Most of these alleys are clean, modern and packed with young people. In addition to bowling, these centers offer video games, American pool tables, and even slot machines. At a nice bowling and entertainment center, expect to pay in excess of $30 per lane per hour. On the weekends it is often necessary to book a lane well in advance. Moscow bowling allies usually offer full dinner and bar menus. It isn't uncommon to see a couple bowling over a meal of sushi and sake.

The moonlight hours in Moscow can be exciting, modern and crazy for any traveler. Whether you are a gourmand, a drinker, or a partier, finding your niche in the Moscow nightlife scene is easy. However, young affluent Russians and wealthy foreigners are the driving forces behind the developing night-life, and they demand that the hot spots be on the cutting edge of trends, modern, sleek and expensive. Consequently, be prepared to spend much more money in Moscow for entertainment than in the West.

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