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Shaken Or Stirred
By Brian Droitcour and Creelea Henderson
Issue 10
October 7 - November 4, 2004

Ideological differences may be why Russians missed out on the last century’s forward strides in mixology, a field neglected in favor of rocket science.

Maria Vereshchagina
Fame bartender: Konstantin
“It’s a capitalist drink,” joked Konstantin, a bartender at cafe Fame, when asked just why cocktail culture has been slow to develop in Russia.

Could he be that far off?

In the Soviet Union, drinking meant sitting at a table where salted fish and pickled vegetables crowded vodka in Czech cut glasses, while on the other side of the Iron Curtain, liquor bottles and ice buckets left little room on the table for a plate of crudites or a crock of Swedish meatballs. The Western cocktail party took one part each drinking and chatting, added a dash of eating, and stirred. Russian traditions, on the other hand, adhere to a Marxist dialectic of drinking: the toast, the shot, and the snack. Nonetheless, comfort with the cocktail comes with time. It is more natural for those who grew up watching daddy nurse his nightly Scotch and soda to not associate the word “cocktail” with the vodka-and-melon mixture sold by the can at the corner kiosk. Change has therefore been slow in Russia. Order a martini in most cafes, and the waiter is likely to ask “Bianco? Rosso?” and respond to mention of gin with a blank stare. It wasn’t so long ago that you needed nothing more than vodka and tomato juice to sell a Bloody Mary in Moscow. Still, there are some places in Moscow that claim to cater to the cocktail connoisseur — including bars that are destinations in themselves, where bartenders guarantee a night well spent by entertaining patrons with flying bottles and flaming, fizzing cocktails.

Alexander Khan: mix master
Cocktail bars and their recipes vary, however. Take the mojito, for example, a drink that’s already enjoyed popularity in Moscow for a couple of years. Each place puts its own stamp on it: Vision serves a “Mojito Party” in a cocktail shaker that seems half full of crushed mint and half full of ice; The Real McCoy mixes a tall, sugary mojito with mint sprigs sprouting out of the top. As for what will replace the mojito as the next big trend, local bartenders are uncertain. Moscow’s drinkers aren’t as fickle as those in, say, New York or Los Angeles, so there’s no seasonal buzz about the hot new drink. Still, some tendencies have been observed. The “Sex in the City”-fueled Cosmo craze means cranberry drinks are getting more play, and bartender Konstantin of cafe Fame said other sweet-tart varieties of mors (berry-based juice drinks) will catch on. But considering that two of the bartenders who talked to G!O won prizes at bartending competitions for their champagne-based creations, bubbly beverages might just be the cocktails of tomorrow.

Of course, drinks and their popularity rely greatly on the bartenders: what information they gather at conferences, the alcohol manufacturers that sponsor them, and so on. Moscow has reason to hope the best for its cocktail future, since many of its bartenders have taken top places in international competitions over the last few years.

Dmitry Fedyanin, the bar manager at Trish, said the bartenders he meets at conferences and contests are thinking in new ways. He also said that Ufa, the capital of the republic of Bashkortostan, has a knack for turning out top-notch bartenders, and the city of Tyumen is the free-styling capital of Russia. Moscow bars regularly recruit their staff in the provinces, which helps ensure a constant influx of fresh ideas.

Ivan Shushkanov, originally from Ukraine and now at Poslednyaya Kaplya, was inspired as a teenager by Tom Cruise’s performance in the movie “Cocktail,” but is now rather pessimistic about his profession’s future. Shushkanov said that while the number of bartenders in Moscow continues to increase as more drinking establishments open, the number of serious and dedicated bartenders has remained roughly the same over the last 10 years. Even though more and more learn to do it well, many of them leave the country to tend bar in Europe or the United States.

Maybe what Moscow really needs is some serious and dedicated cocktail drinkers. After all, the capitalist beverage is naturally subject to the laws of supply and demand.

Vision Cocktail Hall: The Smart Drink

Vision: Martina Crush
Start from the top. With a cool, Jetson-era design and a top-notch view of the Novy Arbat, this is a fabulous spot for urbanites to start the night with a smart cocktail. The drinks menu is logically structured by colors and categories so drinkers aren’t bewildered by the range and scope of the 150 options. Alexander Khan is the architect behind the menu, and the creator of some of its most daring libations. Khan’s latest invention, the Salty Russian, stimulates all four of the tongue’s taste centers: sour grapefruit and lime, bitter vodka, and sweet honey merge in a salt-frosted tumbler.

Khan is the wag behind the Martina Crush, named for tennis great Martina Navratilova. Starting with the cocktail Old-Fashioned, he added half a lime, vanilla sugar, and crushed ice. “The taste is feminine, but the delivery is for men,” he said. Another novelty is the Russo-Japanese War, where Midori and vodka duke it out on a battlefield of limejuice. The drink is to be downed in one explosive shot, but don’t worry: Its blow is softened by the sweet maraschino cherry that represents the victor’s flag.

Vision’s bartenders also shine when it comes to classic cocktail recipes. They mix Moscow’s spiciest Bloody Mary, and its savviest margarita, seasoning fine tequila with Cointreau and lime rather than the Triple Sec and lemon offered at most places. Could this be the best margarita in the largest country on Earth?

The Real McCoy: The Rowdy Drink

Designed to look like a Prohibition-era bootlegger’s den, with a faux gin still percolating against the back wall and bottles of hard liquor smuggled out to guests’ tables in hollowed-out books and loaves of bread, the Real McCoy is a celebration of the “dry” decade that first brought the cocktail to life. True to the freewheeling spirit of the roaring ‘20s, the bartenders are open to any harebrained drink suggestions a thirsty customer might dream up, but with over 150 cocktails on the menu, one is hard-pressed to fluster the hardboiled staff. They mix up a stiff drink that goes down easy, like their whisky sour, with a sweet-tart edge that makes it a favorite, or the royal fizz, where an eggy froth whipped into the traditional gin and sparkling lemonade mix results in a bright lemon meringue zinger. Their mojito recipe uses more sugar than is traditional, making it a favorite of the Moscow sweet tooth. Bring your own crowd down to the Real McCoy, the more the merrier — the place goes hurly-burly on weekends, which start on Thursday.

Trish: The Sexy Drink

Alexander Danilyushin
Trish barman: Pasha
The interior design attracted the attention of every glossy mag in Moscow, but the cheekiness is so irresistible it deserves another go: lurid pink lighting, curtains, red and gold upholstery, vintage porn projected on the wall — Trish is a bordello d’art, balancing on a silken thread between seedy and glamorous. The eye candy of the club distracts patrons from the golden heart of Trish — the bartenders. The staff is composed of professionals who restore the magic of alchemy to the science of mixology. There are about 30 drinks on the menu, but Dmitry Fedyanin, the bar manager, claims that the number is irrelevant, since a true bartender can mix anything customers want, and even things they didn’t even know existed, like a set of nacreous cocktails that are presently in the experimental stages.

Alexander Danilyushin
Trish: Oleg’s concoction
“Drinking a cocktail is like taking a holiday,” said the garrulous Fedyanin, whose cocktail philosophy grew bolder and more eloquent with each libation that appeared before us. He sees himself playing the role of psychologist, guiding willing clients from sobriety to hilarity and back to tranquility. He has a staff of virtuosos no less enthusiastic than himself, who both charm and amaze with their creative panache. Oleg’s philosophy is based upon the individual across the counter: “I mix a drink that the customer will drink,” he said, and he seems to have an uncanny knack for reading his public. He perfects his skills and learns new tricks of the trade by attending meetings, conferences and competitions run by the Barmen’s Association of Russia, or BAR.

Oleg’s colleague Pasha dreamed up an original champagne cocktail with pineapple juice and raspberry syrup while on the metro on his way to a BAR competition. The cocktail took second place that day. It’s this creative spark that gives Fedyanin grounds to say, “When most service workers are replaced by robots, bartenders will still be human.”

Fame: The Glam Drink

Maria Vereshchagina
Fame creation: The Brain Tumor
By day the picture windows show scenes of the city, as pedestrians hurry up and down busy Ulitsa Tverskaya. After dark falls, the people-watching turns inside, as Moscow’s so-called “golden youth” gather before a night’s clubbing.

The bartender Konstantin arrived at Fame from its sister restaurant Sunrise. He describes his new locale as more relaxed than a club or restaurant, and Fame truly is a place for lounging. The couches are wide and deep, and the beige color scheme relaxes guests without distracting them their main point of focus: each other.

On weekends, Fame’s pre-party crowd frequently orders invigorating and intoxicating mixes like Long Island ice tea, B-52, or Red Bull and vodka. Reasoning that the cafe wouldn’t give its name to a bad drink, many try Fame, a tropical concoction of Bacardi light rum, Cointreau, banana liqueur, orange juice, Grenadine, and lime syrup. Jetsetters with a taste for the macabre order the brain tumor: a lump of Bailey’s suspended in vodka and peach liqueur bleeds a few droplets of Grenadine. The squeamish have plenty of other options; traditional cocktails like mojitos, margaritas, daiquiris and caipirinha are competently mixed and commonly ordered.

Red Bar: The Power Drink

Red Bar makes an elegant argument for why the skyscraper has become a metaphor for might in the modern urban landscape. Sitting amid the regal scarlet-and-gold decor, nonchalantly sipping a drink and taking in the sweeping view of Moscow from the top of a 27-story tower, visitors can grasp the geometry of power.

Alexander Danilyushin
Champagne cocktail
The cocktails at Red Bar are no less impressive than the setting, and are well worth their price of about $10. Red Bar subscribes to the philosophy that a great drink doesn’t need to be decorated, so the presentation is simple: a jewel-like liquid in fine glassware. The drinks are served without ice, but their chilled temperature, along with their crystal clarity, testify to the bartenders’ expert use of the shaker.

Many of the drinks on the menu are unique to Red Bar. The namesake cocktail, a blend of rum, whiskey, black currant liqueur and a top-secret blend of juices, has a candy-like flavor that stops short of cloying thanks to a satisfying dry tang. Some men order the Red Bar original “Viagra” and then hide their disappointment upon seeing a femme green mixture of Midori, rum, blue curacao and lime juice. Among Red Bar’s other inventions are three energy drinks that combine vodka, red bull and juices or fruit-based liqueurs.

Most guests come after dusk to admire Moscow’s sparkling web of lights. The evening entertainment is subdued; DJs alternate with pianists who play on “The Pegasus” by Schimmel, a piano whose sweeping contours resemble a sports car more than a musical instrument.

Amazonia: The Exotic Drink

Alexander Antonov
Amazonia: Mr Pineapple Head
If Moscow’s chilly autumn rains make you crave luaus, jungles and gyrating natives — head to Amazonia on Strastnoi Bulvar. This basement oasis is a catchall for exotica, from South America to the South Seas. The eponymous Amazonia cocktail sums it all up. For 478 rubles, the witch doctors behind the bar chop up pineapples, kiwis, grapes and orange to assemble a shrunken head made of fruit. It’s then filled with a mix of white vermouth, gin and cream. The booze mingles with fresh pineapple juice and saturates the sweet chunks of fruit that gather at the bottom. The Amazonia goes down so easy, you’ll want to keep drinking them until you’re dancing with the restaurant’s pet python.

14 Strastnoi Bulvar (M. Chekhovskaya)
209-7487, noon-6am (disco begins at 9pm)

Red Bar
23a Nab. Taras Shevchenko (M. Kutuzovskaya)
27th floor of Moskva City Business Center, 730-0808, 6pm-3am

9 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Ul. (M. Mayakovskaya)
995-1800, 24 hours

Vision Cocktail Hall
11 Novy Arbat, Building 1 (M. Arbatskaya)
727-3230, Sun.-Wed. 11am-2am, Thu.-Sat. 11am-6am

16/18 Bolshaya Sukharevskaya Ploshchad (M. Sukharevskaya)
Bldg. 1 (entrance on Ananyevsky Per.), 207-0483, Sun.-Wed. noon-midnight, Thu.-Sat. noon-6am

Today's Gigs
19:00 - DJ Dolshik: Indian and African classical music, dub, drum 'n' bass
21:00 - Disco nightly, free entry. DJ Alex Sun.-Tue., DJ Suliko Wed. & Thu., DJ Kostya Kleshch Fri. & Sat
DJ Kostrow
Thomas Trotter (UK), Clemens Schnorr (Germany), Vasily Dolinsky, Virtuozy Moskvy and the State Chamber Orchestra play a concert for the inauguration of MMDM's new 30-ton organ
Flammable Beats: hip hop with DJ Vinilkin and friends


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