Luxury travel and food writer Amira Arasteh took a trip to Moscow before the pandemic hit, here, she takes us on her journey through Russia’s bustling capital city, bar by bar.
I’m on my fourth Buckwheat Mule? I honestly have lost track; this drink is like Butterbeer and juice mixed into one. Delicious – and dangerous, as I am reminded it’s actually my fifth. I’m at Do Not Disturb, one of the bars in the SIDR group and I am enjoying the vibe here, as well as the drinks.
The bar is central and complete with concierge, making it highly convenient as well. Not that I could have my attention drawn away from the bar (and later the dance floor), guests are encouraged to use the services of the concierge – from bathrobe slippers to make the dancing that happens throughout the night easier, to last-minute performance tickets at the Bolshoi.
The vibe at Do Not Disturb is very cool; imagine one of your friends had quite a sizeable house with a loft or basement and that loft or basement was transformed into a club, complete with bar. There is the relaxed feel of sofas and ottoman chairs – even the DJ is operating from a small set up with his laptop.
Combine this with the legitimate bar components: friendly, flirty bartenders and a hoard of local Russians and you have yourself the house party of a lifetime. I don’t know it yet but I will be at this bar until the early hours of the morning, dancing away to all the old classics and ordering shots of the Buckwheat Mule when I figure holding a long drink is not compatible with efficient dancing.
A visit to Russia has been on my bucket list since first seeing the cartoon, Anastasia. My interest in the country was only fuelled by studying Russian history in school and, at last, I made it to Russia. 72 hours of food and drink and some mooching around the Red Square, I’ve got this, right?
Let’s back track a little. My flight to Moscow was seamless, thanks to Wizz Air operating a new route. That being said, there’s nothing quite like the tiredness brought on from flying so I was pretty ecstatic to arrive at the Metropol Hotel, bookended by the Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre, so making sightseeing easy and accessible.
Beautiful rooms and a beautiful bar, I might add, but there’s no denying this hotel wins the award for dropping you right in the city centre, so if location is key to your accommodation when travelling abroad, this is the hotel for you. It certainly came in handy when I was running out of my room, having just packed my suitcase, a piece of toast in my mouth, adamant to see St. Basil’s Cathedral in the snow. I had about half an hour for this mission but managed to succeed.
The first evening started off with drinks and dinner at Vermuterium, in the Tverskoy district of Moscow. It was the first stop in Vasilisa Volkova’s SIDR Group social empire that I was to experience.
The restaurant and bar offers a new concept to the capital, pairing Mediterranean dishes with Andrey Kornilov’s (the head bartender) eclectic cocktails. Predominantly vermouth-based cocktails, due to Andrey’s love of the spirit, this is something Andrey makes himself, infusing them with the likes of rose, apricot, cocoa and prunes. The selection is mad and after (typical Amira) not listening properly, I genuinely did order a Greek salad, expecting some leaves and feta to appear in front of me.
Well, the feta came, as a cocktail, and is served with the signature cheese! To be honest; salad…cocktail…salad…cocktail…I wasn’t exactly disappointed. The drinks are strong and keep on coming, I almost was doing a private tasting at one point.
Thankfully, the food is not only delicious but it also helps soak up some of the spirits and I was only too glad to see steaming hot pizzas with calamari, as well as smoked duck rigatoni and tiramisu, thanks to head chef Carlo Grecu bringing a taste of Italy to Moscow. That sounds like a perfect evening, does it not? But the night was still young, and I was in Russia, so it wasn’t over yet.
It’s then that we headed to the aforementioned Do Not Disturb; I’m not kidding when I say it looks like a den or basement-turned party room you’d see in American TV shows and films, plus a bar. Equipped with sofas, stools, Do Not Disturb was cosy and comfortable, yet not deprived of being chic and sophisticated thanks to the impressive bar, complete with bartenders creating all sorts of dreamy and deadly drinks. It is here that I first met the Buckwheat Mule – and life would never be the same again.
We’re told that DND livens up later on in the evening and after a bit of owning the dance floor and more Mules, sure enough, more guests came through the door. What I found amusing was that there was no live DJ in this cool club atmosphere; instead a type of trolley was wheeled out, with speakers and a laptop.
Occasionally the bar staff would change playlists and switch up the sound. This made the space more attractive, in fact, as it kept to the understated cool nature of DND. On top of this, it made it far easier to request your own songs as there was no pretentious DJ to deal with and, after getting on good terms with the bartenders, it was only too easy to turn on the old classics.
Flash forward several hours later – in which time a trip to the Cinematograph karaoke bar was made, complete with favourite film theme tunes being sang terribly. The cocktails were making no one complain though – multiple contact swaps with Moscow locals who thought my friend and I were the most fun tourists ever, a walk home – in the snow – was the perfect end to the evening.
Miraculously alive the next day, we embarked on a tour of the Red Square and Kremlin grounds. As previously mentioned, I’ve always had a fascination with Russian history so thought the tour of the Kremlin grounds was incredible, learning about the different buildings and artefacts within the walls, such as the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the Tsar (or Royal) Bell.
The stroll through the Red Square was animated; full of crowds and colourful buildings – namely St. Basil’s Cathedral and we waved a respectful ‘hello’ to Lenin, who remains in his mausoleum. Sadly, we were unable to enter but it’s another aspect of the country’s history which encourages tourists and aficionados to flock to Moscow.
Lunch was served at the Grand-Café Dr Zhivago – if the name doesn’t entice you to make a reservation, reading about the food surely will. Starting with caviar – how else would you begin a meal in Moscow, might I ask? – and moving on to other delicious eats such as venison and Siberian dumplings; meat, mushroom and cabbage ‘one bite’ pirogis and other dishes such as herring in mustard sauce, Borscht (a typical eastern European soup) and crayfish tail salad.
What I cannot stop dreaming about, even months after, is the fried rye bread with pork fat ham and spring onion. It was a party in my mouth, bliss to eat and I was truly heartbroken when there was no more upon which to feast.
Alas, we move on with life, however, and mains included the classic beef stroganoff, which was delightful; a true must-have while in Russia with the star of the (mains) show and for my taste buds being the crayfish millet. Not attractive in appearance whatsoever – but then, the best dishes rarely are.
Moscow is definitely one of those cities where you can just go for a completely random stroll, stumbling upon little gems of eateries. Severyane is another spot to stop for a bite to eat, serving up crayfish eclairs (are you sensing a theme in Moscow?) but its next-door neighbour, Ugolek definitely caught our eye with its menu too.
Life is all about balance and so is Moscow; do your research and book tables at Selfie and White Rabbit, where you can enjoy fabulous food, though the mushroom ice cream and baby yoghurt is the standout dish, in my humble opinion. I did my research but not with enough time and, sadly, White Rabbit, had no room for dinner – but I thoroughly recommend you book upon your visit.
Then it was back to the bars as the Russians don’t sleep when it comes to drinks and partying. Tonight’s agenda saw us visit Room 5; an underground lab-style cocktail bar, hidden within the centre of Moscow. Those in the know, of course my group and I were, can enjoy an intimate setting while enjoying cutting edge cocktails in this secret location.
This spot would be the perfect place to book for part of a stag or hen do; or any celebratory occasion as it hits the nail on the head for the blend of an elite bar without any kind of stuffy atmosphere (unless you count the literal sense, as you are underground, don’t forget.)
Kot Shrödingera (Schrödinger’s Cat) is next door and lives up to its namesake (the physicist’s famous experiment, with it testing peoples’ thought processes through its cocktails and atmosphere). Another secret bunker, but slightly larger and less intimate than Room 5, waiters and bar staff wear scientists’ jackets and the cocktail menu is presented in the form of a periodic table.
The coolest cocktails around include The Light, served in a glowing LED bulb-shaped glass; a burger bun, complete with hidden hip flask; a fire extinguisher cocktail dispenser; a Bloody Mary in a ketchup bottle, with fries (because who doesn’t get peckish after a few drinks?) and there’s so many more weird concoctions and creations but I won’t spoil the whole game for you.
If you’re a fan of the creative cocktail – after all, it does add to the fun and add to those Instagrammable moments – Neon Monkey Bar is a Bangkok-inspired escape from modern-day Moscow. In addition to low, sunken tables and Asian-style snacks on the menu, the bar has its own masseuse, offering neck, shoulder and back massages while you enjoy your tipples. What is not to love?
Unlike the previous two hidden bars, Neon Monkey is recognisable from the large, glowing monkey hanging outside. By this point, the detail surrounding the drinks is a little fuzzy, but I can confirm I was completely happy with my frozen green cocktail in a monkey glass, with a side of a shot which resembled a fried egg. The shots are definitely the most fun, also presenting themselves in the form of a sea urchin, marshmallow and salt-shaker. Whoever says Moscow isn’t fun has not visited any of the bars within the SIDR group’s portfolio, that’s for sure.
All that’s left to say is ‘polniy poryadok’ which translates as ‘it’s all good’ and, if you visit these bars on your next trip to Moscow, I assure you, all will be just that.
Amira went on this trip before the pandemic truly hit. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, all public places in Russia require a 1.5 metre spacing to adhere to social distancing. SIDR has reduced the number of tables in their bars to ensure the safety of their guests and all staff members wear masks. In addition, guests are offered masks upon arrival, should they feel more comfortable wearing them too. There are also contactless attributes such as QR code scanning for ordering from the menu and paying, as well as sanitisers and hand driers on every table.