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