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Moscow’s hidden bars: six secret watering holes you won’t want to miss

Moscow's hidden bars: six secret watering holes you won't want to miss

Moscow is not a bar-hopping capital, but it has some elusive experimental projects that prove there is an alternative to opulent chain bars and exorbitant high-street hangouts. Here is our pick of six such bars on the back-streets of the Russian capital

12 January 2018

Veladora, a Latin American drinking den with neon signs and mezcal
2/1 Pokrovka Street

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Tucked away in the courtyards of Moscow’s Kitai Gorod, Veladora is as authentic as they come: no Mexican hats, shamanic symbols or bursting bachata tunes. The small basement space is divided into two rooms: a dusky, redbrick bar and a tiny, bright kitchen. The bar menu reads like a Latin American fairy tale and each cocktail carries a correspondingly colourful name: the audacious Padre (pisco sour and coffee liquor), the gregarious Tommy’s Margarita (with agave syrup), the courageous Espada (with orange liqueur and gin), the playful Pepino (assembled with lime, cucumber and tequila) and, of course, mezcal (served with homemade tomato or lemon-based sangritas). Although Veladora is primarily a bar, their food is also worth a go. A succinct dining menu offers a choice of Mexican tacos with chicken and mint cream, pork with pineapple salsa, kiwi and cheese, and veal cheeks with beer caramel, as well as creamy corn soup, the essential guacamole dip or an avocado salad. It is all served in pale brown, rustic ceramic bowls that give this minimalist space a necessary hint of modesty. Follow the silver neon snakes on the walls outside to find the entrance.

Voda, a fragrant bar with refined glassware and plants-on-pink installations
17/1 Petrovka Street

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It’s an open secret that many good bars are found behind hidden doors: Voda is no exception. Enter the arch next to Petrovka 17 and keep to the right until you see a small, two storey building that has a wooden door with a long, golden handle and a stone sign next to it. As the door opens, draw aside a black curtain to reveal a warm, yet ascetic space. There is a pale pink, brick hall on the the first floor, and a charming wooden room with a picture window upstairs. Yellow, raspberry, red and orange bottles at an improvised table replace a classical cocktail menu. But they contain the usual suspects: mezclan, rye whiskey, blended scotch, fernet, bitter milano and sake. These are the basics that are set to become a cocktail like no other: fused with homemade syrups and rare ingredients. Voda is where elaborate cocktails — be it gin with pine elixir or sparkling rhubarb fizz — are served in minimalist glasses that make you feel as if drinking something so special is completely normal. This is exactly what saves a menu-free bar from becoming an experimental laboratory. Space is limited and booking is required.

Seagull-Swallow, killer shots in a secret room designed by Alexander Brodsky
12 Nikitsky bulvar

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Seagull-Swallow is a separate bar in the back room of Proliv, a watering hole favoured by Moscow’s intelligentsia on Nikitsky Bulvar. But it’s also an art installation by Alexander Brodsky — and a little-known paradise. While Proliv itself can boast famous chefs and bartenders, Seagull-Swallow is undoubtedly the hidden gem, and a fine example of Brodsky’s aesthetics and ethos. The small room soaks in the sound of crashing waves and bird song: it feels like waking up in an abandoned wood сabin by the sea, or dreaming in the bowels of a ship. It is steeped in memory and time, with shabby tables and chairs and strings of light straining through the cracks in the door. A faint, but warm, light illuminating a windowless space is Brodsky’s signature trick. With a choice of refined aperitifs and nastoiki on the menu, it makes it even easier to lose grip of time. After a round of bodacious horseradish infused vodka shots, the Seagull-Swallow’s last refuge feel becomes yet more powerful. Classic Russian ingredients – root сrops, dill, berries and anything preserved, pickled, or fermented tastes surprisingly good in the warming company of strong spirits. Start with a set of buterbrod, Russia’s traditional open sandwiches and move on with forshmak (herring and egg tartare), prawn pelmeni or veal cheeks.

Korobok, dusky basement bar promoting drink & talk culture
7/5 Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street

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Slide open a massive “staff only” door to enter the dim and mysterious Korobok. Its bohemian-science interior is based on an interplay of dark leather and sturdy wood and deploys vintage bureau tables and a medical lamp — perhaps a silent witness of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical sessions in Vienna? The dark-brown wooden buffet behind the bar boasts a rich collection of glassware: vintage bottles, jars and flasks full of blended spirits and brewed alcohol. There is no cocktail menu at Korobok. A freshly coiffed and slightly waxed bartender in a grey, linen kurta pajama will offer you drinks, each of which comes with a tailored perfume: from bergamot to mint and lychee. A sip of velvet-like chocolate daiquiri fires the imagination in just the right way. Lie back on a sofa and find yourself in a fin-de-siècle Orient Express smoking room as deep tribal house beats muffle the sound of the train wheels that are pulling you through the starry night.

Enthusiast, time-tested bar in a former motorbike repair studio
7 Stoleshnikov pereulok

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You have to go down a series of seemingly endless alleyway to find yourself at this bar-cum-motorbike repair shop. Though there is plenty of bike paraphernalia scattered around, the emphasis is very much on beers and ciders, not beards and sidecars. Enjoy ale on tap, hearty sandwiches and arguably the best banana cake in town. The number one destination for Moscow’s creative proletariat, Enthusiast is a smart combination of a vinyl music station, shabby interior and reinvented Soviet memorabilia: from posters to decor items. It is a spirited bar with a limited set of local craft beers and ciders that put it at the top of the Moscow drinking experience. Cash only!

Leveldva, bohemian flat turned dance bar
12 Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street

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This obscure bar is tucked away on the second floor of the Ugolek restaurant and provides a sophisticated drink and dance experience, especially for those with a Burning Man ethos. With a nomadic chic interior and weekly music sessions introducing the world of deep house folk, Leveldva has quickly proved itself a must-visit. The space, which reminds one of a grand apartment, is divided into three zones: a dance-floor, dominated by an opulent golden lamp; a cocktail area with a welcoming wooden bar; and a corner for relaxing by a fireplace. Here you can order modernised versions of classic drinks, without having to be interrogated by a bartender about the ingredients you’d like — a mercy in this menu-free world. The price for a quick drink may seem hefty, but as the bass gets more intense on the dance floor, it will feel like all the spirits are in the right place.

For more hard-to-find spots in Moscow and other cities in the New East, download our New East Travel Guide app. For recommendation on where to stay in Russia and beyond, check out our edit of amazing hotels and hostels across the New East.

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