A few years ago, the scoop for visitors to St Petersburg was an ice bar hidden somewhere in the city. Many went looking for the evasive establishment, but to no avail. These days word of mouth is fast, true and backed by social media: St Petersburg’s prime hidden bars and restaurants are nothing fancy, and they are very real. Be prepared for a bit of a hassle to get there, but trust us – it’s worth it.
The apartment-style interior of St Petersburg's Kvartira Kosti Kreutz bar, restaurant and tea room © Anton Veselov / Shutterstock
Kvartira Kosti Kreutz
Be warned: this one isn’t easy to find. Behind all the gates and doors to Kvartira (ul Marata 1; phone 7-921-651 7788) awaits an explosive combination of a restaurant, bar, tea room and Airbnb location. In the restaurant, the smaller fusion portions range from Asian noodle dishes to creative salads. In the atmospheric tea room you can go for a full Chinese tea ceremony or try your hand at pouring tea for your friends; and in the toilet, there’s a shiny vintage bathtub where you can take a bath – for real. To get inside, go to their address and look for a black gate set in an archway. Press number eight at the gate door to go through. At the end of the archway take the stairs on the right. The next door is where you enter a long code (78479360#) and proceed inside. Take the elevator to the 5th floor and buzz apartment number eight. If it’s not dinnertime or the weekend, there’s no need to book in advance.
The coconut ice cream with passionfruit sauce is among the desserts at Skotny Dvor in St Petersburg © Kira Tverskaya / Lonely Planet
A blank wall with a simple dark door and a brass elephant head in the middle of it. No signs, no posters – just come in and Skotny Dvor (Konnogvardeiskiy bul 21; phone 7-911-926 4421) will take care of you. The seasonal menu features creative dishes such as duck gnocchi, but the desserts stand out (try the coconut ice cream with passionfruit sauce). You can sit outside in a walled courtyard and enjoy a cocktail or a herbal liqueur and the vibrant atmosphere; there’s often live music in the evenings. Booking in advance is a good idea, though during the day it’s not necessary. The only time you need a special invitation to visit is if they’re hosting a private party, so phone ahead to check. A small downside to the secrecy: the owners put up a menu outside the entrance, perhaps to attract the World Cup visitors to St Petersburg. Still, not many people are aware of this great spot.
The creative cocktails at Apteka in St Petersburg are served with fuming test tubes © Kira Tverskaya / Lonely Planet
Apteka (Nevsky pr 20; phone 7-931-305 2277) is a little gem hidden in plain sight: a toilet, in fact. It’s located on the 3rd floor of the grand Biblioteka restaurant complex. The trick is that you have to book in advance to be let in, and the minimum tab allowed per person is R750 ($11). Once you’ve secured a table over the phone, head to the top floor of the building, ignore the WC sign you’ll immediately see, and walk through all of the restaurant’s halls to the very end. Now there’s the toilet you need – inside, you’ll see an unmarked door with a doorbell. Ring the bell, wait for the little window in the door to open, and tell your reservation name to the waiter dressed in a lab coat. Then prepare to be treated to some of the city’s best Indian cuisine, accompanied by lemonades and insane creative cocktails served with fuming test tubes for maximum effect.
The rooftop glass dome of Solaris Lab offers a great view over St Petersburg's cathedral domes © Kira Tverskaya / Lonely Planet
It’s an art space, a cafe, a terrace and a rooftop, all in one. At Solaris (per Pirogova 18; phone 7-911-925 1479) you can order reasonably priced tea, coffee and desserts – such as the excellent lemon tart – overlooking the city’s network of rooftops and cathedral domes. To get here, first pass through a courtyard covered in graffiti. Enter the building through the door on the left and go to the top floor (it will feel like forever). Turn right at the top of the stairs and find an unsigned black door located on the far right. You’ll figure it out from there – basically, just keep going up until you find yourself inside a geometric glass dome. Just like Stephen King’s Dome, only with a door and a great rooftop view of St Petersburg.
This is a place that screams ‘plan your visit’ (but you won’t regret it). A small Mexican taqueria, El Copitas (ul Kolokolnaya 2; phone 7-812-941 7168) is only open from Thursday to Saturday night, and admittance is by reservation only. Walk through the iron gate, then quietly (it’s a residential area) pass across the shabby courtyard to the no-name metallic door and ring the bell. The staff will meet you there and make you feel right at home. In this atmospheric place the menu features spicy soups, burritos and tacos, and you can wash them down with tequila, hard-to-find mezcal and signature cocktails. Don’t be late for your booking time – they won’t keep your seats waiting.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.