Monday, 28 January 2008

Review: Simachev Bar (Симачёв)

Opening Hours: 7 Days 11am till last customer
Category: Bar, Pre-Party
Feis Kontrol Rating: Moderate - 3/5 (when present)
Address: Stoleshnikov per., 12., Bldg 2,
M: Pushkinskaya/Tverskaya
Phone: +7 (495) 629-8085

Opened in early 2007, Denis Simachev Shop and Bar is definitely not the first Moscow venue to combine retail and nightlife (even the photos on the wall of Galereya are for sale, and don't get me started on how many of the girls in Moscow nightclubs are for sale one way or another), but it's the first by a local star designer.

Denis Simachev, whose $400+ t-shirts and other haute-nouveau-Russian fashion items are for sale upstairs, has created his vision of the perfect bar downstairs. It has great food, ranges from a rocking club to a quiet place to enjoy with friends, and reflects the quirky designs of its namesake. Whether you're interested in the fashion or not, it's definitely worth a visit!

Simachev is easy to find, as you wander down the fashionable pedestrian walk Stoleshnikov per., it's the large red and yellow building wrapped to look like a giant gift. On party nights (Thu/Fri/Sat generally), Feis Kontrol will have set up a compound outside, and in Summer there's a gorgeous patio, but otherwise you can let yourself in through the narrow antique-looking doors, and find yourself at the base of an ornate staircase, leading up to the store. To your left lies a service bar, and on the right a tabled seating area that converts to a secondary dance floor on busy nights. Feis Kontrol tends to be moderately strict but consistent.

As you venture further into the bar, the thought that comes to mind when describing the decor is "eclectic". A tiled floor and an imitation row of washbasins down the centre of the room give a French Brasserie air, while the catholic confession-like alcoves for inconspicuous dining bring to mind another age. The shiny bar with its hysterical montage of world leaders is bright and playful, while the pornographic Anime mosaic on the wall of the dancefloor is cute (in a kind of sexy "Hello Kitty" way). Add a leopard skin, an ejector seat from a MiG fighter, a working fireplace, and this bar has something for everyone!

Simachev hosts a slightly edgier crowd than bars like GQ, Soho, or other high-end spots. The bar prides itself on it's fashion pedigree, while not welcoming the young and clueless set that haunts Solyanka and Justo. As a result, the crowd is a little older (there are always older (25+) single women there on the prowl), fairly interesting, and looking for a slightly different offering than the standard Moscow mix.

The music at Simachev depends on the night and who's on the turntables (Denis himself regularly does a few sets), but tends to thoughtfully remixed older tunes (lots of 80's), with creative non-electronica modern mixes featuring frequently. To my dismay, when trying to urge the crowd onto the dancefloor on party nights, the DJ is far too quick to put on what I consider 2nd-class American wedding music ("Come On Eileen" being the tune that's guaranteed to make me instantaneously leave any establishment), but the bar generally offers good music you can groove to.

The bar's truly hidden gem is its fabulous kitchen. For someone with a passion for good bar food (a la New York), Simachev is a gift from above. A simple but well-put-together menu of quality sandwiches, pizzas, soups, and other basic foods, (as well as an all-day breakfast and a kicking dessert menu) at a reasonable (although recently increased) price makes this a great place for dinner with friends or even a date, any time of the day or night (although I'd recommend it more on a quiet night).

Altogether, Simachev is a location that has grown on me over time. It's a great place to come on a quiet night for it's own sake, and a good pre-party to get you in the mood when heading out, as long as you don't let the too-cool attitude of the crowd get to you, or find Good Ol' Eileen chasing you out the door.

Review: Galereya/Gallery (Галерея)

Opening Hours: 24 Hours, 7 Days. (No reservations after 9.30pm)
Category: Lounge, Post-Party, Pre-Party
Feis Kontrol Rating: Low - 2/5
Address: Petrovka Ul. 27
M: Pushkinskaya/Tverskaya
Phone: +7 (495) 937-4544

Galereya is the quintessential place in Moscow that everyone loves to hate, yet so may people (myself included), find ourselves back there at all times of the day or night. Yes, it's pretentious, it's Novikov, it's not good value (this is Moscow- what is?), it's full of hookers, the food's not great, the service can be terrible, but for all that- I'm an unabashed Galereya lover.

Why? I'll answer at the end of the post, but first- a little about Galereya.

Galereya is a 24-hour restaurant & lounge, located on the corner of Strastnoy Bulvar and Petrovka. It's immediately recognisable (like all Novikov places) by all the black cars idling out front. Through the entrance and feis kontrol (yes, at a restaurant, but thankfully it's not too painful), the coat check and bathrooms (constantly a wait due to all the people powdering their noses and/or f**king) are on the left, and to the right past the maitre'd and DJ lies the restaurant.

Although the restaurant is bustling most evenings, I find the greatest attraction at Galereya to be the luxurious lounges which are located on the left at the far end of the restaurant. These chocolate-coloured monuments to relaxation are perfect whether lounging with friends over a leisurely drinks/dinner/late night dessert (or later-night breakfast), or canoodling with a new-found friend (sometimes acquainted on-premises). They're great for groups of 2-10 or more, as there are all shapes & sizes.

The menu is the typical Novikov Evrotrash menu, with a mix of decent salads, pastas, fish, meat, sushi, etc., but the unique and best attraction in my opinion is the "Nostalgia" Russian menu, featuring tasty, traditionally prepared Borsch, Pelmeni, Chicken Kiev, and more (at New Russian prices). The dessert range is also very extensive and delicious- vital for a 24/7 venue.

The reason I've included a review of Galereya in a nightlife guide is that it's bustling at all times of the day and night. On Monday's and Tuesday's it can be the only game in town, and post-5/6am on the weekends the place is packed with people fuelling up for the after-party, or before heading home. It's a safe bet that if Galereya's dead, there's not much else going on in town.

The other outstanding feature of Galereya is its summer patio, which comes alive with capacity for another 100 people as soon as it's warm enough to do so. On the weekends, it's a stand-alone party in its own right, with gogo dancers, bands, and more comfortable lounges.

The crowd is a mix of wealthy young Russians, higher-income expats, older businessmen, girls sitting alone sipping tea and waiting for company (who may or may not be for sale), couples canoodling, or groups of friends preparing for a night out. The lounge is frequented on weekdays by the club promoters, who will breeze through with some club models or dancers handing out compilation CD's to advertise the coming weekend's parties.

One of the nicer things about the scene at Galereya these days is, having opened close to two years ago and as such now the 4th most recent place that Novikov has opened, the "must-be-seen-at-latest-Novikov-place" crowd has now moved on to pollute GQ Bar, and Galereya is left with the "regular" see-and-be-seen crowd (if this doesn't make any sense to you, you haven't spent enough time in Moscow).

So why do I like Galereya? For many of the reasons above, it's comfortable, it's well-located, it serves decent food, it has great scenery, and it's a great place to hang out with friends or bring visitors for a taste of a certain aspect of Moscow life.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Review: Arka (Арка)

Opening Hours: Weekdays till last guest, Fri-Sun 24 hours
Category: Mid-Range, Post-Party
Feis Kontrol Rating: Moderate - 3/5
Address: Kitaygorodskikh Proezd, 7, through archway
M: Kitay Gorod
Phone: +7 (495) 233-2331; +7 (903)666-5576 (table reservations)

Club Arka is a newly (re)opened venue positioned as an after-party club for Moscow's A-list. It's going to have to do a whole lot better than it is to catch the attention of these vapid rich kids, models and other notables and drag them away from Krysha, even during Krysha's slow(er) winter months.

Don't try and get here anytime much before 5am unless there's a special event, since the crowds only start arriving after the Megaclubs close (or at least slow down).

Club Arka is located down the street from Cafe Prado, through an archway in a space which has evidently been used for some sort of party venue previously, since I can't imagine anyone intentionally designing this decor for the current Moscow club scene. After passing Feis Kontrol (who peer at patrons through a one-way mirror facing the line outside and radio (dis)approval- very Opera), you stroll down a long corrider, past cheap bathrooms with some strange blue material hanging from the ceiling, to a narrow staircase.

Down the stairs is the main lounge bar, looking like something in-between a high-school cafeteria and a cave. The fake rough-hewn walls are even cheesier than G-Club (although thankfully without Aztec symbols), and lend the entire venue a cheap, pre-fabricated feel, and without any familiar Moscow references (except gorgeous women and gogo dancers), you could be in any random bar in the world. The lounge has some quite comfortable couches and low tables, and the creamy soft furnishings complemented by the meringue-like roof and walls are quite soothing.

Proceeding through to the dancefloor, a long cavernous room disappears into the distance with a mix of bright lights and a consistently marked lack of people dancing (other than gogo dancers). A long mirror stretching down one side makes this space seem vast, particularly given the sparse attendance.

The white bar has some more comfortable sofas and mood lighting, and theres a dazzling surprise room with lush red Middle-Eastern style furnishings that give Arka a bit of flair that is othewise not apparent throughout the rest of the club.

One redeeming feature of Arka is that of the limited number of patrons that are there, there is a fair amount of talent, probably those girls who turn up their noses at Garage, but aren't cool enough for Krysha. Unfortunately, a handful of pretty girls isn't enough to fill this soulless void.

Drink prices are moderate, and music is a mix of slightly edgier house but sometimes slowed down to accommodate the advanced state of the evening.

Overall, if you're stuck in Kitai Gorod and need something to drink long after everything else has quietened down, Arka's not a bad place to go with some friends to chill, eat, drink, and reminisce about the adventures of the night, rather than keep them going strong at Krysha or Garage.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Review: Zona (Зона)

Opening Hours: Fri-Sat, 11pm-7am
Category: Mid-Range, Megaclub
Feis Kontrol Rating: Low - 2/5
Address: Leninskaya Sloboda Ul., 19, building 2
M: Avtozavodskaya
Phone: +7 (495) 229-1428

Note: Please note my caveats regarding out-of-centre venues here.

The first thing you notice pulling up to jail-themed Zona is a gogo dancer gyrating in a cylindrical aquarium out the front of the club. In the thickly falling snow the other evening, this was a striking introduction to this extraordinary place. Having had our expectations dramatically lowered by other nearby venues, Zona was an extraordinary feast for the senses, combining wacky design, crazy spectacles and an entertaining crowd.

The venue is HUGE, with five floors, countless rooms, and capacity for 7,000+ patrons. There are confusing options available entry, with feis kontrol seemingly directing those who can afford it towards "VIP" entry, of which there are multiple levels ranging from 600-1000RUB. The "VIP XO" allows you to Level 4 (seriously worth it for for entertainment value), and the "VIP Bordeaux" 5th floor (not to be confused (despite similarity of decor) with strip club Bordo) with restrained music, plush lounges, more semi-naked girls, and miniature side-rooms (with locks) for couples who wish a little more privacy for their coupling.

Once you find your way into the club, past the steel gates, barbed wire, and other prison-like accoutrements, you find yourself on the ground floor, where a slowly revolving bar is enough to seriously disconcert you (even if sober). There is also an R&B dance floor with elevated moving sections. In summer months, the first floor offers a huge summer terrace, which apparently houses a waterfall and goldfish pond.

The second level contains one of the largest dancefloors in Moscow, with decent (but not particularly adventurous) heavy-duty house music, enthusiastic gogo dancers, and semi-naked women pacing, dancing, or reclining on the bar. Zona's decor follows the jail theme until you reach the 4th floor, with liberal use of steel, bars, grey/blue colouring and concrete. While on the 2nd floor, we were served with a poignant reminder that we weren't at Krysha Mira anymore, as a group of muscular young gentlemen demonstrated their physical prowess by headbutting each other in the chest on the dance floor. It's these cultural interations (combined with regional devushka fashion) that make ex-centre exploration so rewarding.

The third floor is the most prison-oriented of them all, almost completely given over to rows of "cells" with bare wooden benches behind steel bars for patrons to chill with friends and drink.

For those lofty enough to make it to the fourth VIP XO level, an entirely different scene awaits. In the "chill" section, a labyrinth of wooden corridors, punctuated with glass cages with semi-naked male and female dancers, weave around elaborately-themed chillout rooms to house groups of friends, passionate couples, or passionate groups of friends. A raised glass platform hosts more exotic acts, such as the 2+ metre albino anaconda which confronted us as it writhed around a topless dancer. Moving further through the 4th floor, you emerge into a strange fantasy-land, not unlike what I'd expect if Alice in Wonderland were a nightclub. Gold-plated wrought iron, plush upholstery, more dancers and a glass floor, through which the poor people can be seen milling in the non-VIP chillout area below. A diminutive contortionist did his thing while the crowd thronged the dancefloor, and once again, while I'm willing to give the dancers the benefit of the doubt at regional places, the hairy legs of one of them encouraged me to keep my distance, lest I end up with a hairball in my drink from her vigorous gyrations.

The vaunted 5th floor, as mentioned earlier, was a much quieter affair, seemingly designed for people to show how wealthy they think they are, or for couples to retire to more cubicles.

Zona also offers patrons the ability to purchase a "Gold Card" for free VIP entry. Entertainingly, they "urge you not to turn to the usual staff of the club because in this case, we will not be able to guarantee a high level of service [to gold card members]". It also stresses "We do not offer guests drugs or intimate services". Given the scantily clad "dancers" wandering the chill-out VIP zone and the proliferation of private rooms, I'm skeptical of this second advice. For this and other entertaining cautions (and the confusing explanation of how the VIP entry tariffs work), visit their site.

Drinks are reasonably priced, but higher than other out-of-centre venues. a fairly creative mix of cocktails is available, but sadly (as is becoming typical), no redbull.

Overall, Zona is a maelstrom of styles and a feast for the senses. Serious DJ's are known to give concerts here, but the real attraction is the bizarre establishment and the entertaining and friendly patrons. If you're tired of the centre scene and want a truly different venue for a night out, definitely hit Zona.

Review: G-Club (Г-Клуб)

Opening Hours: 11am-midnight Mon-Wed, 11am-6am Thu-Sun.
Category: Bar, Mid-Range
Feis Kontrol Rating: Low- 2/5
Address: 4/1 1st Avtozavodsky Per.
M: Avtozavodskaya
Phone: +7 (495) 710-2991
Website: N/A

Note: Please note my caveats regarding out-of-centre venues here.

This unfortunate excuse for a nightclub looks like the designers started working with a Flintstones meets Il Patio theme, then ran out of budget half-way into the club and fitted out some spare mall space and installed a disco ball and dancer cages.

The whole mess was then dropped somewhere outside the 3rd ring at the end of an alley in a carpark, almost as if an embarrassed wannabe club mogul was trying to make it as difficult as possible to actually go there (come to think of it, maybe it IS just a money-laundering scene).

G-Club is positioned as a "Glamour" club, like Dyagilev, but needless to say falls significantly short of the mark. Even at 2am on a Saturday, the place was mostly empty, but a sparse, evenly mixed crowd admittedly seemed to be having a good time.

The music is essentially a mix of Russky-pop greatest hits (think of the most popular Russian remixes you heard at Dyagilev a year ago all in a row), which while fun to sing along to, isn't the most creative mix I've heard. Drink prices are moderate, but for such a venue, you'd expect them to be cheaper.

G-Club has a highly exclusive VIP section upstairs looking down on the main dance foodcourt, um, I mean dancefloor, but apparently the wide pinstripe-besuited security gentleman thought I was patently too uncool to be let up there.

If for some reason you're trapped in Avtozavodskaya and you can't get into Zona, then G-Club is not the most objectionable way I can think of to pass the time, but I can think of few reasons beyond that to return there anytime soon. I personally will try and return sometime in the next month or so (I fear it may be closed thereafter) to re-review (just in case I caught it on a bad night), but I fear the misplaced Aztec symbols in the fake stucco will be haunting me in my dreams for some time to come.

Moscow Nightlife Beyond the Garden Ring?

As most readers will recognise, MoscowMAXIMUM usually sticks to the newest and hottest places in Moscow, since they're where I generally hang out, and are the places most people want to know about.

In an effort to prove there is life in this city of 16 million people outside the Garden Ring (no, Krysha doesn't count), a group of intrepid friends & I spent much of the weekend frequenting some of the more happening (or not) bars and clubs outside the centre.

Those venues that warranted have received their own reviews, but for those of you who live in the city, the experience is truly worthwhile to visit some of the smaller bars and clubs, just to experience Russian life from a different time and place, sometimes only a couple of km's from the Garden Ring.

In doing these out-of-centre reviews, it's pointless to keep harping on about how the music, dancers, design, girls, crowd, etc, are not as good as Moscow's hottest places, so I have only noted these things when offenses have been truly egregious or I've been pleasantly surprised. Caveat Clubbor!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Dyagilev Closing

Moscow is abuzz with rumours about the impending closure of Dyagilev, and the location of Sinisha & Co's next (super-secret) venture.

Love it or hate it, Dyagilev has ruled Moscow's nightlife for its two years of existence, and many hazily-remembered nights of crazy parties, exotic shows, memorable (and not-so-memorable) hookups, and oh yes- those bathrooms will be fondly missed.

Most pundits place the closing party around April, since Dyagilev's lease is up in June- stay tuned for more details!
Update: Dyagilev lovers never fear, Gorobiy/Kozlov/Lazarevich's new venue to replace Dyagilev is rumoured to be located near Rai, and should be opening around September.
Unsubstantiated rumours also suggest that the new venue has already hosted a couple of events, although given the tightness of Moscow construction schedules and purported timing of the opening, I find it a little hard to believe they would keep a finished club under wraps for 6-9 months.
Dyagilev's closing party has been scheduled for April 26, 2008.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Review: Fabrique (Фабрик)

Opening Hours: Fri-Sat, 11pm-7am
Category: Mid-Range
Feis Kontrol Rating: Moderate - 3/5
Address: Kosmodamianskaya Nab., 2.
M: Novokuznetskaya
Phone: +7 (495) 953 6576, +7 (903) 788 8388 (table reservations)

Often unfairly billed as the club to visit if you can't make it into one of the megaclubs, Fabrique is a Moscow institution and is packed every weekend with fun people who are out to party. Especially if you need a break from the attitude of the high-end clubs, Fabrique's mix of great music (if you like House), range of atmospheres, friendly crowd and reasonable drink prices make it a great place to spend an evening.

Fabrique is located on the embankment accross from the Kremlin and a little downriver, a few blocks from where First used to be. The entrance on the left is the non-VIP entrance and especially since Fabrique is a large club, Feis Kontrol does tend to be easier-going before midnight. Additionally, this is one of the few clubs in Moscow where being a foreigner can work to your advantage with Feis Kontrol.

Fabrique's overwhelming design style is post-industrialist lined with kitschy touches, a throwback to the warehouse parties at the birth of house music. The glass floor, red leather staircase, and ice rink lend it just enough "Moscow" to remind you where you are.

Once through Feis Kontrol and the coatcheck, you pass the upstairs bathrooms (which are a messy squat toilet, don't know why the club doesn't put in decent toilets), and find yourself in a long upstairs lounge, which is sometimes used for fashion shows. Most weekends it's lined with tables and booths (since Fabrique also serves food), and faces the outdoor bar, which is a refreshing blast of fresh air (and a frozen-over terrace for skating) in winter, and a sultry escape for outdoor canoodling (terrace duly converted to VIP-table area) in summer. Another upstairs favourite is the balcony overlooking the cavernous dance floor which provides a entertaining view of the seething masses writhing to house music with varying degrees of coordination. There's also a smaller back room which plays different beats and is often booked out for parties.

Down a spiral, red-leather upholstered staircase, you emerge in the concrete jungle of the lower bar, where most non-dancers congregate. There are several (usually free) lounges, and a long bar where most new introductions are made. The bar gives way to the dance floor via a short staircase, and Fabrique is one of the few Moscow clubs to properly separate its dance floor so people can concentrate on the music and dancing.

Behind the dancefloor (and the ubiquitous gogo dancers), there is a lower pit-like area populated by more tables and lounges, and behind that, more bathrooms and another bar. Trust me, this is not an easy club layout, but exploring can be rewarding!

The crowd at Fabrique tends to be younger than the megaclubs, with a mix of students, expats, and younger Russians who are looking to party and have a good time. While the girls typically aren't as gorgeous as at the megaclubs, they're more likely to speak English, have interesting careers and backgrounds, actually be interested in meeting you, and will go home with you much more readily than the Barbie Dolls you've been lusting after at Most, who are much more interested in catching Mr Prokhorov's attention than yours.

Fabrique is a club that takes its House music seriously, although the club regularly hosts well-known DJ's, so you can sometimes catch some big names and variety of styles.

Overall, Fabrique is a great location for a fun night out if you're looking for reliably good House music, cheaper drinks, a friendly crowd, and mild Feis Kontrol, and is the leader among Moscow's mid-range nightclubs.

Happy New Year Moscow!

Fresh back from vacation, MoscowMAXIMUM is ready to continue providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date English-language news and reviews of the nightlife in the greatest party city in the world!

It already looks like an action-packed next few months in Moscow clubland, the club at Soho Rooms is set to open in the next few weeks, First is rumoured to be re-opening (at least something at First's last known location), although the Moscow opening of club megachain Pacha has reportedly been delayed due to investor disagreements.

Please email or comment if you have any thoughts, questions, suggestions for clubs to review or issues that you think should be addressed on MoscowMAXIMUM!