Sunday, 22 June 2008

Review: Malibu (Малибу)

Opening Hours: Summer Weekends from 12pm-late
Category: Mid-Range, Lounge, Summer
Feis Kontrol Rating: Easy - 2/5
Address: Moscow oblast, Mytishchinskiy region, Zhostovo township, Holiday Zone "Bukhta Radosti-2" (the route from Moscow is well signposted to "Malibu")
M: None
Phone: +7 (495) 969-0549, 797-1267

In the future, I think last night will mark the defining moment when I truly knew Moscow had too much money for its own good. Whoever would pay for the most expensive club development ever ($22 million) to create a ridiculously tacky monstrosity in the middle of nowhere needs to have his head examined (money-laundering requirements aside).

Someone gave a designer with a “Finding Nemo” fetish one too many tabs of bad LSD, an unlimited budget, and a mandate to combine Vegas, Disneyland, and Odessa with the glitz of Moscow nightlife, and drop it in a location better suited for “The Blair Witch Project #34”. While I wholeheartedly DO NOT recommend Malibu as a nightspot- it truly has to be seen to be believed.

Let’s start with the location. 25km past the MKAD (the highway that defines Moscow city limits), and 15km past where the streetlights stop, deep in the forest. For those of you not accustomed to going outside the Garden Ring (no, Krysha doesn’t count), a visit to Malibu could qualify you for a year’s worth of Russian cultural exchange. En route, we passed a bunch of guys watching football in a field, their TV plugged into a high voltage power stanchion. The sight of bemused half-naked locals grilling shashlik in tents, watching as a caravan of Moscow’s glitterati in their Bentley’s & Mercedes' crawled by on the rutted, unpaved roads was a sight to behold, and about the only time I could think that the purchase of a Hummer in Moscow could be justified.

After hacking your way through the forest, you arrive at the gaudy neon-illuminated complex, guarded by an exact replica of the ship from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, complete with mannequins of Jack Sparrow, firing cannons, and black sails.

As Malibu is a summer-only venue, there are numerous yacht berths for people to arrive by water. For some unknown reason, the yacht berths are watched over by an elephant.

The main pontoon (the whole club is floating out into the water) is endless. Patrons stroll through a large concrete maw (simulating Viking longboats, I think), flanked by porpoises, to emerge on a long roofdeck. To the right lies a semi-indoor chillout zone, with lounges and multicoloured disco balls. Ahead are two long lap-pools, encircled by neon-laced fake palm trees, and a circular bar. I expected to be served vodka garnished with fruit and little frilly umbrellas.

Proceeding past the deck, you circumnavigate a sandcastle-like building, which houses a couple of bathrooms, a meeting room (wtf?), and another restaurant-type room on the 2nd floor. Across a small bridge, and this venue is starting to feel endless. There are views of the other platform across an interior lagoon, with floating fake yellow lotuses and candless, which can't obscure the cheesy neon sign flashing "Malibu", in a size that could be seen from space, with a style reminiscent of something last seen on Phuket. Across another open platform, and then wristbands are checked for entry into the club.

At this point any remaining semblence of reality and good taste (not that there's much left) vanishes as you enter a subterranean domain with jellyfish, sharks, whales, and who knows what else suspended from the ceiling, a central raised dancefloor (which thoughtfully restricts access to the other side of the room), surrounded by cave-like VIP booths and ringed by an upstairs VIP balcony. A hostess thoughtfully told me that there were 4 levels of VIP at Malibu, with the Super-VIP gold bracelets reserved for celebrities and visiting royalty (this was with a straight face). The walls are done in a quasi-sandy coral reef-like finish, and for a club that was so expensive to build, everything looks cheap and tacky (with the exception of the sound and laser system).

The DJ is perched high on a raised dais above the dancefloor, presiding over seahorse-encrusted decks, while pirate-costumed go-go girls whirl around below (now why didn't they have those in "Pirates of the Carribbean"?). The bars are uncomfortably raised and taller patrons have to duck under their ~5'5" roof to be able to order a drink (and it's damn hot there).

A trip downstairs to the bathrooms (if you can find them) is a treat, with Jaws busting out of the wall half-way down (he makes another appearance popping out of a billboard near the entrance), pirate-encostumed skeletons in the washroom, and Club XIII-like open lipsticked mouth urinals in the mens bathroom. It's a special experience, especially since you're below water level.

Since it was opening night, the crowd was a strange mix of Moscow club scene (I'm still laughing about juxtaposition of the poor girls on stiletto's tottering along the forest paths to get to the club), with some centre regulars mixed in with a strongly regional crew (not surprising given it's located 90 minutes from the centre). The venue is so huge and remote that unless you turn up without pants (as we saw one fellow nearby), the chances of being turned away by Feis Kontrol are slim.

Drink prices are refreshingly reasonable by centre standards, and with familiar faces smiling from behind the bar, management has evidently poached a competent and professional bar staff.
Overall, Malibu has to be seen to be believed. If you're a yacht owner, then I could see it as a good place to pull up for a few drinks and to lie on the beach during the day, but as a nightclub, it's way too far and way too tacky to attract the Moscow tusovka.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Review: Club Famous (Феймос)

Opening Hours: Fri-Sat 11pm till last customer
Category: Ultra-Exclusive
Feis Kontrol Rating: Tough - 4/5
Address: Rochdelskaya Ul., 15 (down driveway)
M: Barrikadnaya/Ulitsa 1905 Goda
Phone: +7 (495) 255-5354
Website: N/A

Dyagilev is back! Well, half of it... On second thoughts, not really- but Famous sure does look like someone chopped Dyagilev in half. Just to make sure you don't get the two confused after your 16th vodka (if you can afford them) and start digging through the floor of the club to try and find a downstairs bathroom, they have thoughtfully plastered the name of the club (remember: FAMOUS) on every space large enough to put it.

Famous is located in a nondescript building down a driveway around the corner from Opera. It might be hard to find, except for the name FAMOUS on every square inch of the outside of the building too, and that it houses the new ultra-exclusive Vanilla Ninja club on the 2nd floor.

The club is run by the same crew that used to operate First, and the Feis Kontroller has been resurrected from First. Good news for those who were on the club scene a few years ago, but it seems to be taking him a few weeks to figure out that Moscow has changed a little in the intervening period.

The entrance leads you to what can best be described as a staging area, a black and undecorated room with a bar in the centre and a couch or two. It's a nice place to return to for a slightly better chance at conversation, or to allow your vision to recover before you permanently see "FAMOUS" written everywhere you look.

Twin corridors lead to the main club itself, which is an amphitheater style, a central bar, with VIP tables rising in tiers on either side. It's kind of "Opera meets Dyagilev" in layout, but it's much smaller than either, and the overwhelming impression is of Dyagilev, with the overlapping balconies, raised stage and runway above the bar, and the enormous multimedia screens on the walls.

At this point it's important to note that Famous is designed with VIP's in mind. If you're not VIP (or famous, presumably), you're nobody in this club, and even the cheaper VIP tables are crammed together. For the plebians in the non-VIP centre floor, the sight lines in the club are terrible, you can't see the dancers or shows on the stage above, and the fancy effects that produce flames and fountains spill over the edge and literally rain on the patrons below.

A corridor at the back of the room leads to a cramped unisex bathroom, with seemingly very few cubicles. They're well-appointed and soundproofing doesn't appear to be an issue. The VIP bathrooms upstairs are another story. They're plushly appointed and the size of a small apartment.

The DJ's I've heard so far have been pretty good. Music flavour tends Russkie-pop House with occasional flashes of creativity. I would put it as mostly Opera, with flashes of Rai, a touch of Most, and just a hint of Dyagilev. In other words- good, but nothing you haven't heard before. The sound and laser system is really impressive.

The crowd, as per usual in a new club, so far seems mainly to be standing around and gaping (and checking out who's there), and there's little relaxing and dancing, with the exception of the statuesque models at the ultra-VIP raised ringside tables, who if not exactly hoofing, are at least swaying, clapping, and providing a visually pleasing counterpoint for their typically less ravishing hosts, as well as for the lithely writhing go-go dancers on podiums and the stage. I think if the drink prices weren't so ridiculous, people would relax, have a few more drinks, and let the fun begin. That said, other than the staging lounge, there's not much in the way of nooks and crannies for people to get to know each other.

Which brings me to my biggest beef about Famous (aside from the stupid FAMOUS signs everywhere- did I mention that?). The prices are ludicrous, especially in the light of the recently opened Soho, where drink prices are in line with other clubs, yet the design and construction of which would have cost many times Famous. 2000+ rubles (~$100) is ridiculous for a few simple mixed drinks. But it's a casual reminder that as with the rest of Moscow, if you can't pay, then don't play.

Overall, while I recognise that the tone of this review is not exactly glowing, Moscow Maximum remains optimistic about Famous (and excited about Vanilla Ninja, but that's a topic for another review). I hope that once the Feis Kontrol gets better (really random crowd first few weekends), people get familiar with the place, it should be able to develop a decent vibe. It's pure fantasy to dream they might lower the prices, so drink up before you go. Given the pedigree of the operators, none of these issues are insurmountable. It's a beautiful club, good location, good DJ's, but unlikely to be the next Dyagilev that so many clubbers seem to be pining for.

Summer 2008 Nightlife Update

Now that summer is (in theory) upon us, with a bunch of new places to check out- where does the avid nightlifer spend an evening?

Summer weekends tend to be a little quieter than in winter, as many Muscovites head for their dachas or on vacation, but there's still plenty of great places to party!

In a round-up of the centre elitny clubs, the most reknown Summer roofdeck is that of Krysha Mira, and historically there's no better place to don sunglasses, watch a 4am sunrise, drink in hand, and keep on partying- whether dancing in the glass-enclosed upstair dancefloor, or reclining on the lounges and cabanas on the roofdeck.

The latest challenge to Krysha, however, is Soho Room's newly opened roofdeck, complete with swimming pool. The party here, combined with a killer breakfast menu (Eggs Benedict or stuffed French toast anyone? (Only from 4am-12pm- WTF?)), will be a strong late-night contender.

The newly-opened Famous is packing in the crowds, but it's not very big space, so Opera around the corner is still going strong. Vanilla Ninja (located in the same building), open only on Thursday nights will challenge Opera's long-unchallenged Thursday night dominance!

Soho Room's Disco Room is the hottest ticket in town for Fri & Sat, but Rai continues to slide, with the new club offerings putting real pressure on them to fill the club with a quality crowd (although softer Feis Kontrol).

On another note, the increasing modesty of the high-end Moscow clubs so well noted by Moscow commentator MDBIT continues. The depraved ridiculousness seems to have peaked with Rai, where absolutely any form of behaviour can and does seem to be sanctioned, and no topic can possibly be found that can't have a soundtrack and a bunch of mostly naked girls wrapped around it on stage. While many people may breathe a sigh of relief at this, I personally lean(ed) towards the sheer fun of Dyagilev and Opera, which while elite clubs, don't take themselves as seriously as Soho or Most. Let's see how Famous evolves (the sign's aren't promising).

Moscow is still waiting with baited breath for Sinisha & Co's latest offering to replace Dyagilev, but the old Billionaire space is reported to be close to opening as a bar.