Gone are the bandit days of the Russian Wild East, the roaring 1990s, when the pyrotechnic shrapnel from mafiya
bombings and Kalashnikov shoot-outs ripped flaming through the shroud of Moscow's endless snowy nights. No longer do caged strippers gyrate in warehouse discotheques under the deadpan stares of shaven-skulled mafiozy
. Vanished are the night club dance floors teeming with gorgeous hookers and soused expat carpetbaggers flashing greenbacks, the King Dollar. Against a backdrop of mass hinterland impoverishment, the Moscow Zeitgeist of the roaring nineties was one of excess, delirium, and revolt
– revolt against the inhumanly shabby, puritanically austere, prematurely geriatric
identity the Soviet system forced on Russians of all ages.
This revolt played out largely after dark, in cafes and bars and restaurants, and had everything to do with realizing long-repressed dreams of satiation, with reveling in once-forbidden Western-style pleasures of the flesh and palate. One might argue, in fact, that the demise of the Soviet Union was less about democracy and human rights, and more of a protest against bad borsht, and that same bad borsht, meted out in such small portions (to paraphrase Woody Allen), in dank cement canteens in a country spanning eleven time zones.
The collapse of the Russian economy in 1998 quelled the revolt, dimmed the lights, and sent most foreigners packing. After the elections of 2000, sober Vladimir Putin reigned in the Kremlin as president, and now pulls the strings of government as prime minister in the Russian White House. A quietus followed his instatement, then an energy-revenue boom that has fast outstripped historical analogues. Oil is now pushing $80 a barrel (eight times more than during the Yeltsin years). Even as the Russian economy has slipped into recession (as a result of the world financial crisis), petro-dollars have been flooding in and trickling down, average personal income has doubled, and the number of poor Russians has halved.
New Russia has emerged – one now the fourth most ravenous consumer of the planet's luxury goods. The mafiozy
have aged, gone legit, or been jailed, and ordinary Muscovites, relaxed, affluent, and proud of their country yet appreciative of the West, have confected what may be the most vibrant and varied café, restaurant, and club scene in Europe. As a denizen of Moscow's after-hours haunts for the past seventeen years, I can state without reserve that partying in the Russian capital is serious business, the raison d'être
for a people to whom nocturnal leisure is still a thrilling novelty, a way of asserting identity in what is (for Russians), after all, an era of cultural tumult no less momentous than the 1960s were in the West.