St. Petersburg's Edgy Revival
Published: March 2011
By Valerie Stivers-Isakova
St. Petersburg is in the midst of a modern, edgy revival; here’s where to go.
A decade after chef-entrepreneur Aram Mnatsakanov opened his groundbreaking modern Italian restaurant Probka (5 Ul. Belinskogo; 7-812/273-4904; dinner for two $85), the Russian cognoscenti still maintain an insatiable appetite for haute-global cuisine. In-the-know Petersburgers craving Indian head to sultry Botanika (7 Ul. Pestelya; 7-812/272-7091; dinner for two $50) for vegetarian samosas and ginger-spiked dal, and interiors courtesy of local designer—and cult DJ—Alexei Haas. Meanwhile, prolific restaurant group Ginza Project has launched three notable hot spots. Terrassa (3 Kazanskaya Ul.; 7-812/937-6837; dinner for two $68), a glass-walled space next to Kazan Cathedral, serves a mix of Italian, Thai, and Russian dishes (chicken-liver risotto, tom yum soup, and marinated herring share top billing on the eclectic menu). At the Asian-fusion Lujaika (16 Aptekarsky Prospekt; 7-812/324-7094; dinner for two $51), or “lawn” in Russian, the theme is whimsical wonderland: the restaurant’s pet rabbits roam the grounds, and children can fish in a pond surrounded by open-air dining cabanas. Across town, riverboat restaurant Volga-Volga (Petrovsky Nab., Dock 1; 7-812/900-8338; dinner for two $68) trolls the Neva serving up views of the golden spires of the Peter and Paul Fortress while handsome waiters bring on the mâche salad with seared tuna and sturgeon soup.
Photographer turned hotelier Oksana Kurenbina took inspiration from the work of local artists for the 25 rooms at
Great Value Antique Hotel Rachmaninov (5 Kazanskaya Ul.; 7-812/571-7618; hotelrachmaninov.com; doubles from $132), a hub for creative types that occupies two sprawling floors of a Soviet-era apartment building just off Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main promenade. Across the Moika Canal, the newly opened W St. Petersburg (6 Voznesensky Prospekt, 877/946-8357; whotels.com; doubles from $306), the brand’s first foray into Eastern Europe, features 137 modern rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and lamps in the shape of gilded disco balls, all set in a 19th-century building. This corner near the Hermitage is also home to the laid-back, five-room Casa Leto B&B (34 Bolshaya Morskaya Ul.; 7-812/600-1096; casaleto.com; doubles from $289), which has an Italian residential style. Guests share a small living room and a dining area stocked with French and Australian wines and are attended to by the friendliest staff in town (most unusual in Russia). But if a fresh take on czarist glamour seems like a better fit, request one of the 17 new Terrace rooms at the 1875 landmark Grand Hotel Europe (Nevsky Prospekt, 1/7 Mikhailovskaya Ul.; 7-812/329-6888; grandhoteleurope.com; doubles from $370), overlooking Mikhailovsky Palace. At the hotel’s Art Nouveau lobby bar—once frequented by Dostoyevsky—order your vodka neat, the way the locals do. And just across the Neva River on Vasilyevsky Island, one of the city’s up-and-coming arts neighborhoods, the Finnish owners behind Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge (2-4 V. O. Birzhevoi Per.; 7-812/335-2200; sokoshotels.fi; doubles from $318) are banking on their nautical rooms to lure travelers off the beaten path.
The boutique that most embodies the city’s hip new zeitgeist is LowFat Studio (17 Vilensky Per.; 7-812/579-2639; lowfatwear.com), an open-door workshop and showroom for the eco-friendly fashion line developed by business partners Merya and Vera Dmitrieva. The innovative duo, who design playful items such as unisex loungewear, stock a refrigerator with seasonal snacks for shoppers (gooseberries in spring; ice cream bars on hot summer days). Plus, much of the shop’s salvaged furniture—including the dressing room’s whitewashed screen made from old wooden doors—is also for sale. Another stop for souvenirs beyond the ubiquitous matryoshka dolls is Lyyk Design Market (74 Nab. Kanala Griboyedova; 7-812/939-6051; lyyk.ru), a white-on-white space in a hidden courtyard that features Russian fashion designers’ avant-garde looks, including quilted leather jackets by Leonid Alexeev. Across town, Generator Nastroenia (7 Karavannaya Ul.; 7-812/314-5351; generator-nastroenia.ru)—the name translates to “mood generator”—lifts spirits with leather journals embossed with cheeky Russian-language jokes or Soviet-propaganda-themed covers, a playful reminder of the city’s roots.
The new leading arts venue, Loft Project Etagi (74 Ligovsky Prospekt; 7-812/458-5005; loftproject?etagi.ru), is accessed by a hidden stairwell that leads to three galleries, an arts-oriented bookstore, and four spaces for major international exhibitions, including the upcoming “Golden Turtle,” featuring nature photography. Last year saw the opening of two museums, both on Vasilyevsky Island and devoted to modern art. Erarta (2, 29th Line; 7-812/324-0809; erarta.com), set in a 20th-century columned building on the western edge of the island, focuses on up-and-coming Russian talent. Novy Museum (6, 29th Line; 7-812/323-5090; novymuseum.ru), in a former residential building near the island’s metro stop, displays paintings and sculptures from genre-defining artists including Sots-Art duo Komar & Melamid. For a similar feel back on the mainland, there are eclectic galleries Rosphoto (35 Bolshaya Morskaya Ul.; 7-812/314-1214; rosphoto.org) and 100 Svoih (39 Ligovsky Prospekt; 7-812/719-9517; 100svoih.ru), set above a basement bar that’s known for sets by underground DJ’s. But the place to see the world’s emerging classical music talent is the Concert Hall at the Mariinsky Theatre (37 Ul. Dekabristov; 7-812/326-4141; mariinsky.ru), where the winners of this year’s Tchaikovsky competition will perform as soloists during the city’s White Nights festival (May–July).
New Side Trips: Two Cruises to Try
St. Petersburg is an ideal jumping-off point for cruising. New options include the Grand Princes of Russia itinerary with Academic Arrangements Abroad (800/221-1944; arrangementsabroad.com; 14 days from $9,390 per person), a New York–based operator affiliated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tours are geared toward serious arts aficionados, but the trip—including seven days on the redesigned Volga Dream riverboat—is open to all. A more adventurous choice is a 10-day cruise to the White Sea’s Solovetski Islands led by Infoflot (7-495/684-9188; infoflot.ru; from $1,363 per person). The accommodations are bare-bones, but this is the best way to see the remote archipelago and the main island’s Solovki monastery (formerly held by the Soviet gulag) and the area’s wild coastline.