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Moscow clubbers take "face controllers" like Pasha ultraseriously, according them the sort of exaltation that New York City epicures bestow on top chefs. Nobody's as famous as Pasha heck, there's even a Russian rap song about him. But everywhere you go, there's the same routine. First the guy at the front door takes a look. If he likes what he sees, he whispers something into a microphone on his lapel or maybe a cell phone. Moments later, someone else comes out of some shadowy cave that would be whoever is in charge of face control and this guy makes the final call. Pasha took his first job seven years ago, at a friend's bar, and became an instant hit. His mission is simple: make sure Diaghilev's customers have the best time of their lives. If they don't, it's probably because he let the wrong people in. That's what he's thinking when he gives the 10,000th cover girl of the night a thumbs-down. "If you don't let someone in, people take it very personally," Pasha says. Hence the security detail.
The men with the money who come to Diaghilev are known to the people who own the clubs, the people who man the doors, the bartenders, the old women who clean the restrooms. But they don't want anyone else knowing they're there. The more money they have, the more secretive they are. They sit in their ultraluxe lounges, Gatsby-style, rarely venturing down to the pit, ordering drinks for the girls they spot, racking up tabs that can be $10,000 or more. Each of the five lounges comes with its own restroom, accessible via a spiral staircase leading downstairs, and is fully equipped with plush couches and oversize paintings of naked Renaissance women. The men do not stay for long, dropping in around 12:30 or 1 a.m. and usually leaving by 3 or 4 a.m. When I ask Pasha who these men are, all he will say is that the head of a top vodka distillery has reserved one of the lounges for a whole year.
As hedonistic as Diaghilev's patrons may seem, they actually represent a more restrained, acceptable face of Russian capitalism than their immediate predecessors. Ten years ago, Russia's rich were universally regarded as criminals: oligarchs and minigarchs who had "privatized" plundered state assets in the wake of the 1991 Soviet collapse. Under Putin's silnaya ruka (strong hand), the country's business élite has been brought to heel. Most Russians still consider anyone rich little more than a well-dressed extortionist, but there is a growing consensus in Moscow and St. Petersburg at least that today's businessmen are not the criminals they used to be. And commerce is viewed less as stealing from ailing pensioners and more as contributing to Russia's growing international prestige. What has helped soften the image of the upper classes is that after eight years of rapid-fire growth, most everyone in Russia is better off. "Inequality has become less of a concern and less of a political problem," says Konstantin Sonin, an economist at the Center for Economic and Financial Research. Mixed in with the new rich is something Russia has not seen in nearly a century: second-generation wealth. "These are very trendy young people who got their money from their parents," says Anna Lebsak-Kleimans, president of the Fashion Consulting Group. "This is the first generation born rich or at least raised rich."