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Aug 28, 2005
In Moscow, the Old Party Is Gone and a New One Beckons - The New York Times
ENTER into the cavernous nightclub where three middle-aged men are playing industrial music on homemade electric instruments while young men in black and young women with bared midriffs gyrate on the dance floor. It's an eccentric, sexy scene, made even more discombobulating by the giant cut-glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the stately rows of columns along two sides of the room.


Jeremy Nicholl/Polaris, for The New York Times

A visitor at a Viktor Kirilov exhibit at the Aidan Gallery in Moscow.


If the place looks vaguely familiar, it's because this is the infamous Hall of Columns, scene of the grim Moscow show trials. While watching the city's youth throbbing in unison in this once-sinister place you can't help noting that this is definitely not the gray Moscow of Leonid I. Brezhnev and countless other stone-faced Russian leaders.

"The younger generation understands they lost their roots," said Andre Drykin, a make-up artist who recently returned to his homeland from Miami. "They don't want to be like their parents," he added, downing a cappuccino on the steel-and-glass roof terrace of the modish Ararat Park Hyatt next to the Bolshoi Theater. "They want to build a new culture."

Walking the streets of Moscow, one cannot help but notice all the fashionable clothes and a preponderance of low-cut pants, pierced navels and a general sense of overt sensuality that seems incongruous among the city's stark monuments and buildings. On a warm morning earlier this summer, office workers in outfits by the local designer Denis Simachev, Versace suits and short skirts were pouring from the Metro into a large office building. The building they were filing into was the old K.G.B. building on Lubyanka Square - still the center of state security services and one of the most forbidding places in Russia.

"I remember when Tverskaya was dark," said Carrie Barich-Hart, a transplanted Minnesotan who has lived in Moscow since 1992, referring to Moscow's main boulevard, "when there were no restaurants except for a few hotels. In the last three or four years Moscow really started coming alive again."

Mrs. Barich-Hart, an entrepreneur, was strolling around her neighborhood at Patriarchs Pond, an ancient poplar-shaded pool the size of two football fields where Tolstoy used to skate. The pond, immortalized in the opening scene of Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical novel, "The Master and Margarita," is the center of a revitalized neighborhood a mile northwest of the Kremlin where expatriates and young families reside amid a smattering of cozy restaurants and music cafes.

In Cafe Pavilion, a restaurant housed in a yellow neo-Classical building overlooking the pond, stylish Muscovites were indulging in fusion cuisine and sushi, which is now almost mandatory in fashionable Moscow restaurants.

Forget about the old complaints about the food in Russia. Moscow brims with excellent, if somewhat pricey, restaurants.

Jeremy Nicholl/Polaris, for The New York Times

A dancer performs at one of Moscow's most-fashionable new restaurants, Galereya, where the music is loud and the food pricey.


Mrs. Barich-Hart and her husband are part owners of Moscow's much-praised French restaurant, Carré Blanc, where President Vladimir V. Putin held a New Years Eve party. On side streets off Tverskaya, diners can wade through fleets of parked Mercedes, Bentleys and brightly colored Hummers to the hot restaurants-of-the-moment, notably Vogue Cafe and Galereya. Both these spots are D.J.-soundtracked restaurant-as-theater spectacles of bankers, models, stars, molls and hangers-on nibbling $30 salads and coolly ogling each other.

"Right now Moscow is younger and wilder than ever," said Mrs. Barich-Hart. "It's as if the whole city just turned 21."

Of course, one can still easily find the grim, shabby Moscow of the Soviet era - especially in the overcrowded housing developments and the elderly people begging in the Metro. The startling gulf between the city's super-rich and everyone else is still there, but whereas only a decade ago Moscow's boulevards were open roadways for lone Ladas and the occasional Mercedes and Zil limousines, the city's current daily bumper-to-bumper congestion of Japanese and Korean cars signals the emergence of a thriving middle class. Despite significant burdens of terrorism and social and economic instability, Moscow seems to savor its new role as one of those few places, most notably New York and London, where wealth and creative talent will accumulate no matter what the state of the rest of the country.

In fact, it could be argued that domestic turmoil and newly minted wealth has stimulated a great surge of creativity and a strong market for that creativity in Moscow. One only has to look up at the sky to see why.

Moscow's skyline is currently a forest of construction cranes and new office and apartment buildings. The results are mixed. For instance, in the northern suburb of Sokol, a garish pseudo-Stalinist skyscraper, called "Triumph Palace" is nearing completion. The buildings indeed a triumph of pure irony, given that this massive neo-Communist wedding cake (Europe's tallest building, at 866 feet) will have some 966 apartments for Moscow's new capitalists.

That's a lot of empty walls to fill.

"No one thought about the art market until five years ago," says Vladimir Ovcharenko, the affable and black-leather-clad owner of Gallery Regina on the fourth floor of a dingy building on the northern end of Tverskaya (22, 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya). "Now it's serious. The new Russians have so much space in their new condos and mansions that they need something to go with their Philippe Starck furniture."

Founded in the Gorbachev era, Regina was one of the first galleries to deal in what was then discredited Soviet Realistic artwork - paintings that showed happy steelworkers and waving Lenins - that now sells for the tens of thousands of dollars. Since then, the gallery has played a leading role in discovering and selling the works of new artists.

Standing in the hallway of the gallery, designed to resemble a typical boarding house for a collective farm, two young Ukrainian artists, Zhanna Kadyrova and Olesya Khomenko, are smoking furiously as they prepare for their opening later in the week. "In Kiev, a lot of people want to go and exhibit in Berlin, but I wanted to exhibit in Moscow" said Ms. Khomenko. "There's more openness to experimentation here."

Down one floor on the grungy staircase is the equally pioneering Gallery Aidan, started by the painter Aidan Salakhova.

"Aidan had been living in New York for 13 years and when things liberalized here, she came back and invited her friends to exhibit," the gallery's manager, Anna Gershberg, said. "We started the gallery in 1992. But things have really picked up. We're going to be moving to a new space later this year."


Jeremy Nicholl/Polaris, for The New York Times

The unnamed bar at 30/7 Petrovka can be so crowded that dancing and conversation are difficult.


The tiny 700-square-foot gallery, which specializes in conceptual and "Russian Classicist" works, featured a broad range of odd and provocative pieces, like a light box featuring the Koran rolled up like a Torah with letters that form forbidden human figures. One of the gallery's artists, Liza Berezovskaya, recently exhibited an installation featuring a neon light on the wall that spelled, in Russian, "Fear." The piece was bound to raise an eyebrow or two given that Ms. Berezovskaya is the daughter of Boris A. Berezovsky, the exiled billionaire oligarch.

"It's like New York, even the ultrawealthy like to slum it in bohemia." said Igor Vishnyakov, himself a scion of a prominent diplomatic family. Mr. Vishnyakov, who recently returned to Moscow after a stint as a photographer in New York, was talking with three young Russian artists around the private bar of RuArts (1st Zachatievskiy Pereulok), a new five-floor gallery in the exclusive Ostozhenka or "Golden Mile" district near the Pushkin Museum.

When asked to recommend a fun nightspot, Mr. Vishnyakov volunteers a couple of local places without names, like the one near the Galereya restaurant that is referred to by its street address: 30/7 Petrovka. On a recent visit, it certainly did look like cool Moscow, but it was hard to tell as an attractive crowd had shoehorned itself into the place, making it impossible to dance and hard to converse. Everyone seemed to make do with eye contact, wiggling and lots of drinking.

We went on to First, a spacious all-night club on the quay across the river from the Kremlin where a mix of older bankers, young celebs, models and Russian preppies canoodled in well-upholstered lounges around the dance floor, bringing to mind a Studio 54 reborn on the banks of the Moscow River. D.J.'s mixed Russian and American hip-hop, jazz, industrial and world music. By 4 a.m., the place was in full swing; people danced wildly to a mélange of samplings that, like Moscow itself, seemed vibrant, loud, experimental and yes, very cool.

VISITOR INFORMATION

GETTING THERE

Delta and Aeroflot have direct service from New York. Visas are required for United States citizens. Apply at the Russian consulate, 9 East 91st Street in New York; (212) 348-0926; on the Web at www.ruscon.org; at the Russian Embassy, 2650 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington D.C., 20007, (202) 298-5700; or at the embassy's Web site, www.russianembassy.org.

The helpful Moscow Art Guide, printed monthly in Russian and English, is available in art galleries and at upscale hotels; it provides an overview of current exhibits and openings.

WHERE TO EAT

Carré Blanc, 19/2 Seleznyovskaya Ul., www.carreblanc.ru, (7-095) 258-4403. In summer, the terrace at this elegant French restaurant is a delightful spot to nibble dishes like lamb with goat cheese for $26, or marinated foie gras for $52, under giant white umbrellas.

Galereya, 27 Ul. Petrovka (7-095) 937-4544, an over-the-top stylish creation by Moscow's restaurant king, Arkady Novikov, features excellent Russian and European dishes, too-loud disco music and great ogling in its chic, beige and brown interior. Small entrees such as $25 lamb chops (at $27.9 rubles to the United States dollar) or $14 pork ribs are supplemented by vegetable side dishes, $10 to $15.

Vogue Cafe, 7/9 Kuznetsky Most, (7-095) 923-1701, another Arkady Novikov creation with an emphasis on Russian comfort food such as $11 plates of pirogis or buckwheat kasha served in a genteel, club-like setting with framed Condé Nast magazine photos covering the walls.

Cafe Pavilion, Bolshoy Patriarshy Perulok, www.restoran-oblomov.ru, (7-095) 203 5110, Eurasian food, such as $23 sushi platters, or a $17.50 duck salad in the elegant setting of a neo-Classical pavilion on the edge of Patriarchs Pond northwest of the city center.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotels in central Moscow are usually extremely expensive. But deeply discounted rooms can often be booked through www.moscow-hotels.net.

The Rossiya, Varvarka ulitsa, 6, www.hotel-russia.ru, (7-095) 232-5200 is a hulking Soviet-era eyesore but its comfortable, renovated double rooms with breathtaking views over Red Square are fantastic bargains at $169 double occupancy with tax.

The Hotel National, 15/1, bld. 1 ul. Mokhovaya, www.national.ru/english, (7-095) 258-7000. After extensive renovations, this Art Nouveau masterpiece across the street from Red Square reclaims its pre-Revolutionary mantle as the most elegant hotel in town. Published prices for doubles, including breakfast and tax, start at $437.

 

   
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