БАЛТИКА 7 – Cafe near Dinamo Station, Moscow

31st May 2011, 22:00~22:30

Alcohol content: 5.4%
Price: 80RUB (about €2) for 500ml
Overall verdict : Location, location, location

First trip to Moscow, first trip to Russia, first night of the trip. It was hot and humid, and I could hardly read a word of the menu. It’s actually quite a nice feeling. It took me back to when I first went to Japan in July 1992. There’s a frisson of fear in Moscow, because we’re told it’s a dangerous city. Through fear of crime, or just fear of being ripped off for not being able to read, “Westerners” stay in their hotels and pay 400 roubles (10 Euro) for their beers and 1000 roubles for their burgers. The doors to our hotel had metal detectors and inside there were security to wave another detector over you or, if needs be, pat you down. This was a pretty expensive hotel, but did all the security make you feel more safe, or less? In the end we seemed to get the worst of both worlds, because the detector was there, but nobody responded if you set it off.

One of the Baltika (БАЛТИКА) family of beers.

 
That pleasurable feeling of being slightly out of ones depth, and the minor hassle of having to arrange a visa in advance makes you feel privileged to be in Moscow, and courageous for venturing out onto the streets to have dinner.
 
But the thrill of adventure was a bonus. I was heading out because I refuse to pay 4 or 5 times the going rate just through cowardice. 
 
After wandering round the hotel a couple of times, I convinced myself that the best chance I’d have would be heading back to the metro station – Dinamo – and banking on there being some kind of restaurant round there. Attracted by a neon Pepsi sign, I gravitated to a cafe set back from the high-way, a bit behind the station and hoped that I wasn’t too late. It was very much point and hope, but the waitress was helpful and in the end I ended up with a steak dinner and two beers for 490RUB, which would have just about got me a beer back at the hotel. 
 
It was like that all over Moscow. Some places charged 10 quid for a beer, others charged 2 quid. It was very much a self-selection market segmentation thing. Some establishments went after the segment who wanted to pay 2 quid for a beer, others went after the segment who didn’t want to sit next to those of us who wanted to pay 2 quid for a beer, and were prepared to pay 4 or 5 times as much to sit next to people who agreed with them. Even with the price barrier, many places apparently went further and exercised “Face Control” bouncers, who would sort the chic from the chav and turn away customers who weren’t “on message” with the brand story they were trying to communicate. 
 
I guess once you let the “wrong sort” in, your brand equity crumbles, your bar “does a Burberry”. It’s understandable, and a bit grotesque at the same time. 
 
One place I loved was the Yolki Palki (Ёлки Палки) chain of beer restaurants (various locations across Moscow).

The Yolki Palki near Teatralnaya Station, just North of Red Square

The place was recommended by Lonely Planet’s Moscow guide, and to be honest, it was a God-send. The menu was in Russian, but had small-print explanations in English, and there were pictures in the menu too. The prices were very reasonable, with beers available for 80 RUB per half litre, and even a full litre for 145RUB (3 quid). The food was supposedly “traditional Russian” but even if that is not the case, there was plenty of things that looked OK in the pictures, and at prices where you could get a few things and still not feel like you had to be careful.

 
Anyway, the beer in the title, Baltika #7 is one of the Baltika beers that are brewed in St. Petersburg, and together account for 40% of the Russian beer market making them the largest brewer in Eastern Europe, and second only to Heineken in the whole of Europe.
 
I saw quite a few Russians in the parks with brown pet bottles of beer – street drinking seemed to be the thing to do to get drunk cheaply – but I didn’t see any really drunk people the whole time I was there.
 
 
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