Friday, 22 August 2008

Review: Black Star / La Terrasse (Блэк Стар)

Opening Hours: 7 days, 3pm-last customer. Feis Kontrol from 10pm Fri/Sat.
Lounge, Pre-Party, Exclusive
Feis Kontrol Rating:
High - 4/5.
Top Floor, Kievsky Vokzal Pl., 2 (Evropeisky Shopping Centre)
+7 (495) 229-8428, 229-8429

Following the closing of Zhara, Moscow rap icon Timati has opened the first of several bars in a complex located on the top of Evropeisky shopping mall in Kievskaya.

La Terrasse is the first bar to open, to shortly be followed by Black Star Club. Similar to venues like Royal Bar or Kalina, it seems to be positioned as a great warm-up bar or a place for a more chill evening listening to cool beats while reclining on couches.

This place is painful to get to. Once you know the right entrance ramp from the street, you drive up for what seems like forever, asking directions and passing through at least two more entrance gateways (vehicle Feis Kontrol) before you even get to club parking. After that it’s into Evropeisky, to an elevator to the top level. I’m exhausted and in need of a Red Bull before I even get to the bar.

Once through Feis Kontrol (ex-Dyagilev VIP), the venue opens into a comfortable lounge, with a long rectangular shape, cozy cream sofas everywhere, a central bar, and a DJ spinning chilled beats with just a hint of R’n’B to promote the relaxed vibe. To get patrons in the mood to party, the music tempo increases through the evening on weekend nights, sounding more like Opera’s Thursday offerings (Russkie Pop mixed with enough R’n’B to convincingly claim it’s an R’n’B party (think “Umbrella” remix)).

Despite the recent opening, the bar staff seem capable and relaxed, and will show off their flair skills at the sight of a cute girl at the bar. Drink prices are reasonable, but then again, you are on the roof of a shopping mall. The menu is typical Evro, but dishes are well-prepared, tasty, and surprisingly reasonably priced too.

The crowd on the nights I have been there have been a little sparse, but high quality. There are plenty of stunning women lounging around, and it’s much more tusovka than trashy (a relief after Zhara- but then again, I’m not their target market).

Based on La Terrasse, I would expect Black Star to be something like Zhara meets Soho. Timati & his partners are likely to capitalise on the increasing maturity of R’n’B to move the defunct Zhara upscale, and I’ll be curious to see how it goes. If you like Timati or R’n’B, it should certainly fit your bill.

Overall, La Terrasse is a great place for a snack or pre-party drink, but unlike Royal Bar (also a pain to get to), there’s not enough there to keep you there for a whole evening, so I don’t know if the odyssey to get to it is worth it. If it was on the street someplace, I’d love it, but I’ll reserve judgment until it’s fully operational.

To be continued...

Review: Karma Bar (Карма Бар)

Opening Hours: Wed 7pm-6am, Thu-Sun 9pm-6am
Democratic, Club
Feis Kontrol Rating:
Minimal - 1/5. Cover Charge
Pushechnaya Ul., 3
Kuznetsky Most/Teatralnaya
+7 (495) 924-5633, +7 (909) 947-3232 (table reservations)

Another Moscow nightlife institution, Karma Bar has been packing in the crowds for more years than there have been Leto/Osen/Zima reincarnations. A peculiar mix of oriental design, Latin dancing, and just a hint of mystery has kept this popular club packed for years.

Unlike nearby Propaganda, Karma bpth harder to find and slightly less publicised for tourists and in guidebooks, so there are fewer foreigners here. The crowd tends to be a fun-loving mix of students and younger people who prefer to party without the hassles of Feis Kontrol and attitude of the Moscow tusovka (high-end party scene). This crew will party hard and late though, and I’ve seen cocaine served over the bar here to help this party keep raging.

To find Karma, the address will land you at a gate, where (very mild) Feis Kontrol awaits and an entrance fee will be extracted. You then wind your way down a long alley until the sound of music reaches your ears. You enter a covered stretch of alley, where tables line the walls, and to your surprise (on Saturday, at least), Tango and Salsa lessons are being given next to a small bar!

Fear not, for the nightclub lies deeper. Proceed through a small entrance at the back of the room (beware the coat-check rigmarole if it’s winter), and descend a series of landings with strange Buddhist decorations (the bar was originally called “Buddha Bar”), until you reach a strange room with a mirror wall and set of stairs up half the wall. This is the bathrooms, but if you proceed further, you enter the main bar, a dark cavern with comfortable couches and a long bar, often with girls dancing on it.

Two rooms lead from the main bar, one to a small room of divans for private tables, and the other to a long dancefloor with a stage, and another bar at the far end. The crowd here dances to mix of unadventurous Russkie Pop, but it’s a fun and very friendly atmosphere.

The decor is dark and heavy, with lots of curtains, pillars, and heavy on eastern symbolism (ignore the huge Buddha in the middle of the room). While there are some lighting effects, the club doesn’t boast the type of laser displays typified by the high-end clubs. Lithe go-go dancers amplify the club atmosphere.

As well as being a popular Fri/Sat night venue, Karma also has a happening party on Sunday nights, which can be a difficult night to find Moscow action.

Overall, Karma is a fun place to party, more of a Russian scene than somewhere like McCoy’s, but still plenty of friendly (often English-speaking) locals to whom foreigners are an attractive novelty. Minimal attitude, cheap prices, and fun crowd make it a great place to spend a non-Feis Kontrolled evening.

Review: Propaganda (Пропаганда)

Opening Hours: M-F 12pm-6am, S-S 3pm-6am
Democratic, Club, Bar
Feis Kontrol Rating:
Mild - 2/5
Bol. Zlatoustinskiy Per., 7
Lubyanka/Kitai Gorod
+7 (495) 624-5732

Venerable Propaganda (“Propka” to its fans) is an institution on the Moscow nightlife scene. Over 10 years old, included in every tourist guide ever printed, but still periodically raided, Propaganda is still packing a happening crowd. Geometria for some reason even puts its photo shoots from Propka in the “Underground” section of the website.

How this mediocre space a few blocks from the Lubyanka can still attract a cool (albeit not high-rolling) crowd after all these years is, like Garage, somewhat of a mystery, but Propka’s Thursday night parties are still the hottest tickets for a hip, studenty crowd looking for some adventurous electronica beats.

If you wander into Propaganda during the day or early evening, you might doubt how this mild mannered restaurant could provide anything more exciting than a case of gastro (just kidding, the food is cheap & decent). The crowd, a mix of students, expats, and tourists, are happily enjoying their meals, but after 11 most nights, the shutters come down, the music goes up, the tables are cleared, and drunk or experimental duvushki hit the dance floor.

The decor is basically basement bar- a lot of wood and exposed brick. Once through the entrance and the light but occasionally capricious Feis Kontrol (speak English and you should be fine), you wind your way into the main room where a central dining/dance floor is punctuated by pillars and surrounded by booths against the walls. A small but efficient bar serves patrons from one side, and twin staircases lead up to mezzanine hosting cosier tables and a balcony overlooking the floor.

The Propka party crowd are mostly younger students (many who speak English) who are into the music, and although a lot of hooking up gets done at Propaganda, many people really are here for the music. There are plenty of expats and tourists in the mix too, and by 1am the vibe is usually pretty drunk and happy. If you’re into that scene, Sunday nights gay parties are legendary, if you’re not, it might be a good night to avoid.

Propaganda will often be absolutely packed until late, although the bar next door is a decent flow-over venue if you need a break from the music or want a quieter chat to get to know a new friend.

Overall, Propka is a great place to come and party where you won’t have issues with Feis Kontrol, it won’t break the bank, and you can meet some attitude-free locals or just dance your ass off.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Review: Vanilla Ninja (Ванильная Нинджа)

Opening Hours: Thursday midnight-late
Category: Ultra-Exclusive
Feis Kontrol Rating: Ridiculous - 5/5
Address: 15 Rochdelskaya Ul.
M: Ulitsa 1905 Goda
Phone: Not listed
Website: N/A

This new Thursday-only über-elitny joint venture between the Famous (First) and Krysha Mira crew takes exclusive to a new level. There is no Feis Kontroller, and entry is by list-only. Unless you’re on the list, or have someone on the inside to let you in, you’re not getting past security, no matter who you are or how good you look.

And how to get on the list? Well, firstly you have to cut off your little toe, send it along with a lock of hair from a teenage virgin (hard to find in Moscow) to Sergei Zverev, then turn up at Krysha at 11.11pm on the full moon, where you will participate in the human sacrifice of a lesser mortal who had the poor judgement to be caught partying at Sorry Babushka. Then, well... OK, maybe not, but it’s something like that.

The club is located on the second floor of the same building as Famous, and in fact the bathrooms of Vanilla Ninja are the VIP bathrooms for Famous (more about them later). Access is down the same driveway, but you go past the Famous entrance to the enormous white gates (Element called them Mordor-like, which is apt).

Once you have satisfied the list-gods, a small door pops open within the larger gates, and you scurry through to a spacious VIP parking area with the usual dazzling array of the cars of Moscow’s rich & bored. A small wooden door flanked by candles provides access to a candle-lit staircase taking you to the upper level. It’s here that the startling similarity to Gazgolder’s decor first hit me.

Arriving on the second floor, you see that the Ninja is small. It’s a single room with a bar on one end, DJ booth on one wall facing a tiny dancefloor, and a handful of VIP tables at the other end. On either side of the DJ table, flat panels screen mostly lesbian porn and on the opposite wall a working? fireplace and another couple of couches.

The overwhelming decor theme strikes me as “modern Gazgolder”, with the same quasi-antique feel (ornate couches, cracked tiles, lots of gold paint), but with more mirrors and metal, see-through air-conditioning, and less of Gazgolder’s brick. It’s quirky, but it works.

The crowd is a similar mix of beautiful people that you’d expect to see at Krysha with fewer of the artsy types, and plenty of industry people, given it’s a Thursday. The DJ pumps a mix of heavy house and quasi-electronica, not dissimilar to Krysha or Gazgolder, to a crowd gyrating on the dance floor.

The bar serves the usual mix of overpriced (think Famous) drinks, and given the small venue and familiar crowd, people seem to be having a good time.

The bathrooms deserve a special mention (see my Famous writeup), they’re huge and have a spacey design, with UFO wallpaper, changing colour lights and enough room to throw your own party in there (which no doubt occurs frequently).

Overall, if you like Krysha, Gazgolder, or cozy places with hardcore music, Vanilla Ninja is a good place. I personally like the gimmicks and the crowd, and once inside, people don’t seem to take themselves or the venue too seriously. It’s a fun alternative (or warm-up) to Opera on Thursdays!