Issue #12/67, June 17 - July 1, 1999
"At Last, Moscow Grows Up". That would be the headline I'd use for this article. However, I know that the editors of this juvenile, frat-boy newspaper will insert a headline meant to demean me. Fine with me. As I've often said in the past, it only hurts them and their own position vis-a-vis their readers.
Now, the first thing you may have noticed in this latest installment of my column is that my photograph has been changed. Indeed, it has. Let me explain. Earlier this year, after Johnny Chen was fired from his job and abruptly left Moscow, the eXile editors and I met about trying something truly different and brave in their newspaper: hiring a nightlife reviewer who emphasized responsibility as much as fun, a social conscience as well as a willingness to let loose. They acknowledged that the newspaper suffered from the fact that it was very unrepresentative of the real expatriate community in Moscow, and frankly, people were getting tired of the same old thing.
We reached a couple of compromises. For one, my real photograph was not to be used, but rather, a likeness was to be placed in its stead. Secondly, while I unwittingly ceded control of the headlines (it was explained to me that this was normal editorial procedure), they agreed that my--dare I say--innovative attempt at "fun with a conscience" nightlife reviewing would not be tampered with.
Admittedly, my girlfriend Amy (whose picture you might be able to make out on my writing desk) wasn't too pleased with the arrangement. We argued in a constructive manner, although I'd be lying if I didn't admit that she made me spend the entire weekend before my first article sleeping on the couch. In the end, however, we both agreed that since it is always easier to criticize something than to change it, and since I was between jobs and had always had a knack for the written word, that the plusses outweighed the minuses. Amy agreed. The couch cooled off, so to speak. And here I am.
Now that I've survived the first six months nearly-intact, I feel confident enough to have the eXile publish my real picture. Besides, the other picture looked nothing like me (except for the beard). This past weekend, while at the Last Drop, I was introduced to an expat who told me that she saw my letter printed in the Moscow Times two weeks ago, and she agreed with everything I said about the eXile. She also told me that I am the only thing worth reading in the eXile, and that if it wasn't for me, she wouldn't even use this newspaper for her cat's litter box (her cat's name was "Grover", I think). But... she told me "You look nothing like that picture."
So now I've changed it to the real me. Here I am! In the next issue, I plan to go a step further by naming this column "Trekking By Moonlight". I'm working with top designers now to make it exciting, healthy and progressive.
So, let's trek!
This issue, I'm staying away from the club scene, and taking you on a tour of a couple of new bar/pubs. Frankly, I'm relieved. Amy thinks that while she was gone, I was getting a little carried away with clubs, but I think rather it is fair to say that I was getting a little carried away with my job.
What's nice about reviewing pubs--especially good ones--is that, for an expat couple like us, bars and pubs are far more preferable to the vulgar, synthetic, doped-up atmosphere of a disco. (I'm not necessarily against all drugs--in fact, I've always believed that grass, being organic, should be legalized, particularly for medicinal purposes; it's the synthetic drugs that are so destructive.) The newest exciting new addition to the bar/pub scene is the Last Drop, a basement pub with a classy atmosphere. Located through an arch just down the way from Garazh, the Last Drop has already become host to smart, professional Russians, and not a few expats. Of the forty or so clients, no less than half were couples. We had the option of drinking a variety of beers on tap, all well-priced (Baltika was 60R for a half liter!), including even the Irish beers. Okay, so this isn't Vietnam or Cambodia when it comes to cheapness, but every month, it seems, Moscow is inching closer to trekker heaven.
The bar is cool, pleasant, and decorated with an eye towards being low-key. The walls are white, the wood-paneling stylish and understated. Pool aficionados will be pleased by the presence of two pool tables. They also offer various dishes, mid-priced, drawing heavily from Central European dishes. Moving on to a somewhat flashier addition, we headed over to the new William Bass (or "Vilyam Bass" in Russian), we found another couple-friendly pub serving up great beers, good service, and a variety of British dishes. William Bass is a two-story structure not too unlike the John Bull pub, except that it serves its own beer and not John Bull beer. The menu tells a fascinating tale of how one William Bass, born in 1725, took his struggling father's private beer recipe and created a locally famous pub in Leicester. You can almost smell the history wafting in the pub, even all the way here in Moscow!
Interestingly, there are rows of high-priced cars that crowd the small parking lot in front of William Bass's. Meaning that it's popular with the professional Russians, many of whom still remain, despite this crisis (overhyped, if you ask Amy and me). Perhaps it's because of them that the prices were a bit out of mine and Amy's reach. Beers ranged from 80R to 120R for a half pint, while food was more in the $10 to $20 range. As my budding free-lance career is still bringing in meager wages, Amy is still having to cover most of our expenses. Not that she minds--we don't adhere to extinct patrimonial values--but nonetheless, we have to economize, especially now that her firm has scaled back on her housing allowance, and they're even threatening to rescind insurance coverage for partners (meaning yours truly).
So, there you have it. Maybe not "crazy" and "wild" and "decadent" like some people in this newspaper, but nevertheless, "real". And that's what counts in the end.