I'm standing in a laser-lit pit enveloped by the loudest, most hyperkinetic music I've ever heard, surrounded by the most unbelievably beautiful young women I've ever seen. Turquoise amoebas crawl across movie screens on the walls. Bartenders in black-and-white uniforms dole out $25 gin-and-tonics. The beautiful women take pictures of themselves with cell phones. Photographers from celebrity websites take pictures of the women. The men the rich men watch, lurk, smirk. They have a certain look: bald or mostly bald, in suits, straight-collar shirts, no tie. They buy cocktails for the women they want to take back to one of their apartments, somewhere their wives won't be. Everyone is heavily scented. There are flashes, explosions of synthesized snare drums, a ghostly light emanating from the chandeliers hanging from a cavernous ceiling. Everybody who should be here is here: models, would-be models, oil barons, metals magnates, media tycoons, an actor, a director, a Duma Deputy, a gaggle of designers, the occasional expat (mouth agape). Outside, the masses line up in the snow to get a peek at how royalty spends its weekends; most of them will never make it past the turtlenecked thugs with the earpieces. But what do I care? I'm in Diaghilev Project Moscow's hottest, trippiest nightclub—and everyone wants to be me.
Three hours earlier ...
The bouncer known as Pasha Face Control sits in a purple crushed-velvet booth at the entrance. Diaghilev Project is quiet except for the bartenders getting their nightly, premadness briefing from the floor manager. A thin light permeates the club. Standing 5 ft. 9 in. (just over 1.7 m), with a slight build and a languorous gaze stretched across his face, Pasha Face Control hardly looks like a bouncer, let alone Moscow's most famous front man. But that is exactly what he is. As he explains to me who gets into Diaghilev, he speaks with an almost Talmudic earnestness. Everywhere else, Pavel Pichugin, with his blue jeans, button-down shirt and windbreaker, would look totally unremarkable, but in Moscow at this particular post-Soviet juncture, he is not Pavel; he is Pasha Face Control, the Arbiter of Cool. That's something you must never forget, not if you want to meet the most amazing women on the planet and feel important and drop a few hundred dollars on drinks; or a few thousand on one of Diaghilev's vip booths; or $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 on one of its five ultraluxe lounges. The man who holds the keys to this world is Pasha Face Control, who is loved and hated, who routinely fields death threats on his cell phone, who has his own security detail.
"I look at everything," he says in a soft voice: "clothes, face, hair, hairstyle, teeth, the whole person, the way this person communicates." He won't reveal exactly what impresses him; you just have to know. You have to look a certain way, and then, assuming the celestial alignments are in order, Pasha Face Control may nod ever so slightly and the turtlenecked thugs will allow you to proceed, without fear of pummeling, through a shadowy tunnel all the way to Shangri-la. Sometimes Pasha may force a sort of Sophie's choice on would-be clubgoers: You, with the two supermodels on either arm, you think that impresses me? Daladno! (Come on!) Pick one. No room for extras tonight.