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Kiev: A City in Transition

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Photo: John Kernick

For a stiff drink, however, your best bet is the Balcony Bar at the new Hyatt Regency, on Tarasova, which looks upon the gold-leafed St. Sophia Cathedral and St. Michael's monastery, both completed in the 1050's. There is also Ryumka, which means "shot glass" in Russian, and the first floor at Arena City, on Basseynaya (across from Bessarabsky Market), which brews its own beer. For dancing along with your drinking, Barski has a terrace that affords great views of central Kiev. There is also Tsar Project, on European Square, a loud, cavernous club, and Privilege, on Parkovka, which resembles a Grecian-style theater.

Among the many new clubs, bars, and restaurants in Kiev, none is hotter than Decadence House. The café and club is black inside, an Art Deco chamber of discreet permissions. Beautiful women keep coming in, dressed to kill. The many candles and sugarplum-inspired chandeliers spill shadows across their fine features. Vyacheslav "Slava" Konstantinovsky, who co-owns Decadence with his twin brother, Alexander, tells me about a fight that broke out in the club a few weeks earlier where one of the combatants exited minus an ear.

With their shaved heads and compact builds, the Konstantinovsky brothers look like a duo of Yul Brynners. They came up through the Soviet sports apparatus as Greco-Roman wrestlers, and they're now connected to some very real power as board members of Kiev-Donbass, an influential Ukrainian real estate development firm. They opened Decadence four years ago, and the place now attracts a clientele willing to pay high prices for a night on the town. Tonight there are foreign capitalists, an ambassador or two, and several parliamentary deputies.

During the revolution, the Kon­stantinovsky brothers offered up Deca­dence as a place for Orange functionaries, and the club's televisions broadcast the mass street protests, the gathering army, the whole uncertainty of a political process in crisis. Slava waves it away. "We're not so interested in politics now," he says, his TV's now looping the Fashion TV channel. That confident wave is the upshot of the Orange Revolution. Three years ago there was a great fear that it would all come to a violent end, but now there's the belief that Ukraine, with its new political will and foreign investors spurring on growth, is on the path to positive social and economic reform.

Outside Decadence, a gypsy cab pulls up and I hop in. An elderly woman sits at the wheel, her voice hoarse with cheap come-ons. She is easily 65, and tells of prostitutes that may be had nearby. "Very clean," she says. "Very beautiful, all of them." In Kiev, the city's underbelly will ultimately confront you, as all manner of vice and excess is barely hidden beneath the surface. In some ways, Kiev today calls to mind Las Vegas during its early mob days, where civility, style, and good times could be found in a world of thugs, fast money, and endless parties.

The taxi lets me out at Koenig's Arena City, where a long line waits amid clouds of perfume and the unfunny faces of some serious money. Upstairs, the club's dance floor is charged with the cravings of those who save up their glib chatter for the weekends. The loudest laughter can be heard at the VIP table. Koenig is here, and he pours a drink for Darko Skulsky, who owns Ukraine's top movie and TV company, Radioaktive Film. Radioaktive produced Hatchet, one of last year's U.S. slasher movies, and has made hundreds of TV ads and music videos for markets throughout Europe. It's much cheaper to mount productions here than it is in, say, Berlin or Prague.

But that doesn't mean that taste runs cheap. Viktor Pinchuk, a steel billionaire and Ukraine's second-richest citizen, recently opened the Pinchuk Art Centre, on Krasnoarmeyskaya, a contemporary collection that includes pieces by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Andreas Gursky, all three of whom attended the opening of an exhibition of their works at Pinchuk's gallery last fall. For Ukrainian art, there's the Kollektsia Museum, on Pankivskaya, and the RA Gallery, on Bogdana Khmelnytskogo.

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