Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008


The classic Moscow of the Romanovs, Leo Tolstoy, ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich is well known around the world: The Kremlin, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin State Museum and the Conservatory top most to-do lists. But there's another Moscow — alternately ostentatious, hip, crass, beautiful, elegant, luxurious and fascinating — that all visitors to the city must see if they want to get a feel for what this place is all about.

1. GUM and TSUM

GUM (pronounced goom) and TSUM (pronounced tsoom) are the largest, most over-the-top shopping malls in Moscow. Both are reminiscent of the New Russian joke about the two oligarchs: Boris Nikolayevich is walking down the street when he runs into his friend Andrei Ivanovich. "That's a lovely tie," Boris Nikolayevich tells his friend. "Thank you," says Andrei Ivanovich. "I spent $900 on it in Paris." To which Boris Nikolayevich replies: "You fool! You could have stayed in Moscow and paid $2,000." No doubt, he had GUM and/or TSUM in mind. GUM faces Red Square; TSUM is across the street, just opposite Karl Marx Place. No one who values value should buy much here, but everyone should make a point of stopping by GUM, strolling through the capacious, architecturally stunning hallways packed with the likes of Burberry, Joop!, Hermès and Moschino, and then moving on to TSUM. After all the window-shopping, Café Tsum, on the fourth floor, is a perfect place to unwind amidst the splendor and pretentiousness. To get here by metro, take the red line to Okhotny Ryad or the green line to Teatralnaya.

2. Patriarshy Prudiy

Anyone who's ever read Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita will want to see Patriarshy Prudiy, just off the Garden Ring and not far from Mayakovsky Square and Tverskaya Ulitsa (the city's main drag). Anyone who hasn't should; there's no better guide to Stalinist Russia and the surrealism that, in some sense, still pervades Russia. Patriarshy Prudiy, which means "Patriarch's Pond," is a square-shaped pond surrounded by Stalin-era apartments; look here for the yellow, neoclassical restaurant called Pavilion, among the city's best. The best time to experience Patriarshy Prudiy is the morning, in the fall or spring. Take a book, allow yourself a little time, walk around the pond, make sure not to miss the sculpture garden. This is a piece of Moscow that most outsiders miss and everyone from this place cherishes. By metro, get here on the green line to Mayakovsky, or the purple line to Pushkinskaya Ploshchad.

3. The Bulvar

Start out at Chistiye Prudiy, which means "Clean Pond" and is situated in the city's aptly named Chistiye Prudiy neighborhood. Then follow the Bulvar, the four-lane road split down the middle by a park, to the Chistiye Prudiy metro station. Continue on the Bulvar until you arrive at Pushkin Square, the very heart of Moscow. Here you'll inevitably run into hordes of people feeding the pigeons, reading the papers and checking in on the great and grand statue of Alexander Pushkin, whom Russians universally consider the father of Russian literature. (You may also hear a Russian cover band playing the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R.") If you walk a bit farther down the Bulvar, you'll eventually reach Jean-Jacques, a great French-Russian restaurant that's a favorite among the city's young and beautiful.

4. 35 MM

This is one of Moscow's most storied cinemas; it's located at the corner of the Garden Ring and Pokrovka Ulitsa. (Take the red line to the Krasniy Vorota metro stop.) They play foreign films (including many American titles) in the original language, often until very late at night. There's no surround sound or stadium seating at 35 MM, but there's history. Soviet and Russian film aficionados have been coming here for decades.

5. O2 Lounge

At the base of Tverskaya Ulitsa, the busiest street in Moscow, sits the new Ritz-Carlton, and on the 12th floor of the hotel is the O2 Lounge, which Russians insist on calling the Oh-Two Lounge and not the Oxygen Lounge. The O2 Lounge is meant to make the people who go there feel important, rich and sexy. It usually accomplishes all that — by charging exorbitant prices for first-rate sushi and Champagne, served by beautiful girls whose job it is to make eye contact with patrons for just a little too long. After dropping 5,000 rubles (about $200) for a little California roll and some Ruskiy Standart vodka, step outside onto the balcony. Without a doubt, the best views of Moscow — including panoramic shots of the Kremlin and, in the distance, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior — can be found here. Take the red line to the Okhotny Ryad metro stop.

6. Swiss Ôtel

So long as we're comparing views, check out the City Space Bar & Lounge on the 34th floor of the Swiss Otel. Better yet, catch a 7 p.m. concert at the new House of Music next door — it features some of the highest-caliber classical-music concerts in the country — and then swing by the café, which has an excellent late-night menu. The ring line or brown line metro gets you to the Pavelyetzky Ploschad station close by.

7. Gorky Park

It's not just where Martin Cruz Smith set his novel — which everyone around here knows and finds very funny. It's also a great spot to get an ice cream cone, take a walk along the Moscow River, and watch the locals at play — having a picnic, drinking, drinking some more, singing and cavorting. Make a point of entering the park at the Park Kultury metro station. You can't miss it: There's a huge, Brandenburg Gate–style structure that sits outside the entrance. Proceed toward the river, skip the Ferris Wheel, continue parallel to the river all the way to the Uzbek restaurant Chihana, where it would be very wise to get one of their specially prepared lamb dishes, a glass or two of red wine and green tea. Outside seating is available, or patrons can stretch out with a large pipe, or houka, in a darkened indoor lounge that feels more Central Asian than European. (It's a five-minute walk to Chihana from the Park Kultury metro; ask someone for directions toward the Neskuchny Sad bridge. The restaurant is near the rear entrance of Gorky Park and the lovely Neskuchny Sad garden.) After your meal, follow the path out of the park to the yellow and blue pedestrian bridge that spans the river; some of the best views of the city can be found here.

8. Winzavod

Tucked behind the rusting Kurskiy Train Station, Winzavod is Moscow's very own Meatpacking District. The one-time factory now houses a series of galleries, one of which recently exhibited photographs by Terry Richardson; also here: the "concept store" Cara & Co., which features Belgian and Australian clothing designers, a hip, if overpriced, café and an array of household items. Many a Western celebrity has made Winzavod the place to swing by when in town; this is where to go for fashion shows, art openings and sightings of the city's rich and notorious. Take the ring line or brown line to Kurskaya.

9. Krysha Mira

With its plethora of six-foot-one models, growing music scene and excess leisure time, Moscow has become a hub for high-end nightclubs. Krysha Mira — krysha means roof, as in the roof of a building and the "roof" one pays a mobster for protection — has the best atmosphere. If you can get past the face control, or bouncers, you'll have a wonderful time on the top-floor deck enveloped by supernatural blondinki, electronic music and the occasional fire-breathing dancer. Views of the Moscow River, the Stalin-era Ukraina Hotel and the White House, where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin runs the country, abound. The best way in is to make friends with a Russian who knows his way around this scene. Flashing a U.S. passport would have sufficed five or 10 years ago. Not anymore.

10. Café Pushkin

When the night is done and you're ready to tuck in, don't. Head to Café Pushkin on the Bulvar, not far, strangely enough, from Pushkin Square. (Take the purple line to Pushkinskaya Ploshchad.) The café, which is really a five-star restaurant, is open 24 hours a day and is situated in a building that was renovated to look exactly like a Russian aristocrat's home circa 1825. The staff speaks a beautiful, pre-Sovietized Russian (and English) and serves some of the best fare in town. You'll want to get the blinchiki (Russian pancakes) with black caviar, borscht and pelmeni (dumplings), before moving on to the famous Tsar's Sturgeon and, of course, one of Pushkin's many, many desserts. Make sure your meal includes a spot or two or three of vodka. (Ruskiy Standart should do, or ask the waiter for a recommendation.) They treat you like you're a member of the landed gentry here, and that's because Pushkin is one of only a few dozen restaurants in Moscow that really understands service.

11. Bonus: Lenin's Tomb

It's super-kitschy but worth the visit: Lenin's Tomb. It's the easiest place to find in Moscow — big black box, middle of Red Square — and it's open most weekdays. Don't bring any backpacks or handbags; they won't let you take anything inside. The better to keep the Father of the Revolution safe and sound.