Back in the day, the local pub was the ryumochnaya, which comes from ryumka, or 'shot'. This was a grim place, serving up 100g (a euphemism for vodka), but nothing else. Moscow’s drinking possibilities have expanded exponentially (although there are still a few old-school ryumochnye around). Now, drinkers can choose from wine, whisky, cocktail and sports bars, microbreweries and more.
What to Drink
The word ‘vodka’ is the diminutive of the Russian word for water, voda, so it means something like ‘a wee drop’. Most often vodka is tipped down in swift shots, often followed by a pickle. In recent years, drinking cocktails has become more fashionable, meaning that women at least can get away with mixing their vodka.
Many visitors to Moscow are surprised to learn that pivo (beer) is the city’s most popular alcoholic drink. The market leader is Baltika, which makes no fewer than 12 excellent brews. Craft beer has also become popular in recent years, and there's no shortage of microbreweries and speciality beer bars offering a fine selection.
Russians traditionally drink sparkling wine, or Sovietskoe shampanskoe, to toast special occasions and to sip during intermission at the theatre. It tends to be sickeningly sweet: look for the label that says sukhoe (dry), or at least polsukhoe (semidry). Nowadays, the capital has a few classy wine bars, where Muscovites drink fine vintages, mostly from Europe.
Kvas is a mildly alcoholic, fermented, rye-bread water. Cool, refreshing and slightly sweet, it is a popular summer drink that tastes something like ginger beer. In the olden days it was dispensed on the street from big, wheeled tanks. Nowadays, the kegs are smaller, but they still set up in parks and outside metro stations to serve thirsty passers-by. This cool, tasty treat is also sometimes served in restaurants.
Where to Drink
Drinking is a favourite national pastime in Russia, and modern Moscow offers venues for every occasion, mood and season. Former factories have been converted into nightclubs; leafy courtyards contain beer gardens; and communal apartments now serve as cosy cafes. Pedestrian streets such as ul Arbat and Kamergersky per are hotspots for strollers and drinkers. The former Red October chocolate factory in Zamoskvorechie is packed with diverse drinking establishments.
Solo traveller looking for drinking buddies? Freaked out by face control? An organised pub crawl is a guaranteed way to meet fine folks from around the world, get into some cool clubs and discover Moscow's nightlife. The City Pub Crawl includes four clubs, four drinks and one band of very merry Moscow travellers. Dancing on the bar is also included.
In recent years, Moscow nightclubs became notorious for their fast pace and over-the-top excesses. Each new wild club outdid the last with glitz and glamour. Several outlandish clubs are still alive and well in Moscow. To ensure the clientele enhances the atmosphere, many such clubs still exercise 'face control', allowing in only select patrons.
Fortunately for the rest of us, the night scene has changed dramatically, becoming more 'democratic' and more laid-back. Nowadays, there is a slew of less discriminating clubs that also have great music, strong drinks and cool vibes. It's still recommended to dress sharp and look cool though.
Most clubs start hopping after midnight and keep going until dawn.
Summer doesn’t last very long in Moscow, so locals know they need to take advantage of the warm weather. That’s why every restaurant worth going to opens a letnoe kafe, or summer cafe. They take over the courtyard, or the footpath, or the rooftop – because people want to be outside.
Need to Know
Most bars and pubs have the same opening hours as eating venues (from noon to midnight). Some hotspots stay open for drinking until 5am or 6am, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
Prices for alcohol vary widely, depending on where you are drinking. Expect to pay anywhere from R200 to R600 for a pint of beer or for 50g of vodka. At upscale clubs, cocktails can cost R500 and up.
How to Get Past Face Control
- Dress sharp. No shorts, sneakers or sportswear.
- Smile. Show the bouncer that you are going to enhance the atmosphere inside.
- Book a table (sometimes requires a table deposit).
- Speak English. Foreigners are not as special as they used to be, but they’re still sort of special.