Moscow does hidden bars right. There’s no pretense of secret doors hidden behind a bookshelf, or phone booths where you dial just the right number. No. Moscow speakeasies do not want to be found. They conceal themselves well — behind unmarked metal doors and dingy alleyways that smell like cat piss and warm garbage water. These places make sure that you are there because you know exactly which unmarked path to follow and which unlisted phone number to call for a reservation.
Moscow thrives on this combination of the grotesque and the intricate. It’s almost a dare–– if you can handle the vague directions, the grimy post-soviet apartment complexes, the rude staff on the phone and you actually make it to the bar, that drink will taste that much more divine.
To get in to one of these places, you will need a reservation. And if you somehow manage to talk your way in, don’t be surprised if half the tables are empty all night: they’re meant to be that way.
Chainaya, or Чайная, is a former teahouse hidden near the Belorusskaya Train Station (often the first point of entry for tourists getting off the AeroExpress from SVO). The name is a play on tea— or чай — in Russian, but it also clearly takes inspiration from China (Russian spelling be damned). The walls are a crimson red, the lighting dim, and the decorations are straight from 1930s Shanghai with a touch of Maoist propaganda. The drinks are all 620₽ and are heavy on mezcal and pisco.
Only in Moscow would there be a bar named after a French avant-garde director’s black comedy the plot of which centers on cannibalism. The restaurant has all the sepia dustiness of the film, without the human steaks. While there are a few cocktails listed on the mirror behind the bar, the best part of this experience is having the bartenders make you anything you describe — be it bitter, light, sweet, smoky, or anything in between.
Part bike repair shop, part sandwich shop, Enthusiast (Энтузиаст) is kind of like the anti-hidden bar. It’s not the sort of place you are going to for egg white froth or rows upon rows of bitters. Enthusiast serves a take on soviet comfort food — hearty soups, rows of beer on tap, and a surprisingly good banana cake.
Named after the creator of the modern periodic table of elements, Mendeleev Bar is more about the deep house — дип хаус — on the weekends than the cocktails. But the weekdays are for jazz and absinthe. Like many places in Moscow, Mendeleev is hidden inside of another restaurant. Unlike many places, it doesn’t take reservations. It takes the Berlin club vibe all the way to its door policy, letting you in the if you look like you’ll fit in. All black helps.
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I cheated. El Copitas is technically in St. Petersburg, but I wanted to include it, because it is the place that inspired this list. One of the best tequila bars in the world, this is a reservations-only small-group experience without an address (you walk into a courtyard and someone gets from a nondescript door and brings you inside). There is a complimentary welcome drink of a shot of tequila with an agua fresca chaser. There’s also a small menu of agave-based cocktails, tacos, and tortilla soup. But the most incredible thing about El Copitas is all of the rare tequilas, which the owner handpicks and brings back to Russia himself. There are mezcal bottles that are one of a 10,000 year production batch; there is mild anejo, and pungent blanco tequila. Take as many shots as you can, but it will still go by too quickly.
What’s your favorite hidden bar in Moscow or wherever you live? Are speakeasies still a thing? Let me know below!