In the old days, we had the KGB; now, we have 'face control,'" says Svetlana Kunitsyna, a cultural journalist and TV reporter. "At certain restaurants and nightclubs, they look you over before they decide to let you in. There are even signs that say management has the right to refuse you entry without explanation."
Though there's no actual sign, Restaurant Vanil is the kind of place where face control might be practiced—a sleek, minimalist, entirely chic restaurant with exquisite food and views of the new Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Vanil is on the site of the old cathedral, which Stalin blew up in 1931 and replaced with a swimming pool. Moscow's flamboyant mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, rebuilt it in 1999, and even though it's immense and rampant with marble and bronze, it looks plastic: Moscow as Vegas, with frescoes by Zurab Tsereteli, Luzhkov's court sculptor. Tsereteli is also responsible for the incredible (and incredibly hideous) overscale statue of Peter the Great, on the Moskva River downriver from the Kremlin. There he stands on a kind of pirate ship, offering safe harbor to visitors.
Six two and blond, Svetlana Kunitsyna was raised inside the system but was always seditious; her mother was called to her school because the young Svetlana was drawing wigs on Lenin in her textbooks. Kunitsyna was at the heart of the burgeoning rock scene in the early 90's, and she knows her nightlife. Keeping abreast of it has been part of her job, though it would make her laugh if you called her a rock-chick or a party diva. "Even in terms of nightlife," she says, "Moscow went through every stage in the course of a decade: rock, disco, dance."
Clubs and pubs, casinos and bars, blues bars, rock clubs, gay clubs, strip joints—they all come and go. The nightlife is frenzied. Unless you're 20, a little goes a long way. There is good jazz, though, and some of the best is at Le Club, where you can eat and drink in civilized surroundings and listen to Moscow's Igor Butman on the saxophone or visiting stars like Spyro Gyra.
"We're finally emerging into something more stylish," Kunitsyna says over Merlot and herring at Club Petrovich. "People used to go out to listen to jazz. But the attraction of the sex club, the hooker, the low life, was very strong. When the Soviets left, it was like they pulled the cork out of the bottle, and everyone went wild. A puritanical society died, and everyone wanted a see-through blouse."
In a remote courtyard, Petrovich is frequented by writers and artists; the clientele is generally dressed in the international brotherhood of black clothing. It's a private club, but if you're wearing the right outfit you can talk your way into a table for lunch or dinner. A quartet of guys plays cards, drinking tea from glasses. A jazz band performs. A few people dance. Founded by André Bilzho, the club is named after the beloved cartoon character Petrovich, a sort of Russian Homer Simpson. The décor runs from cartoons to Communist kitsch. When you join, you get a card that makes you an honorary Petrovich. "Here, every man is named Petrovich, every woman is Petrovicha," says Kunitsyna, laughing. "It says so on my membership card."