Whether it’s because of a lack of athletic prowess, security fears, homosexuality, or just a dislike of the cold weather, especially this time of year in Russia, it’s safe to say that many of us will not be tracking to Sochi this February for the Winter Olympics.
For those who want to get their, um, Russian on, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best spots in major cities across the U.S. to throw back vodka like you’re a resident Russian who guzzles four gallons of pure alcohol a year.
Talk about getting into the spirit! Mari Vanna, the Russian eatery popular with star Russian hockey player Alexander Ovechkin, is putting three dishes from the Sochi region on its menu in honor of the games. Make sure to stop by during the opening ceremony on Friday, as the restaurant will be giving out a complimentary vodka-infused shot to each patron.
For a different pace, another great option is Russia House in upper Dupont. Usually filled to the brim with Eastern Europeans, it was once described by a reviewer as “like one of the exotic dens from a vintage James Bond paperback.” It’s well known for its drinks, so start with the vodka sampler and try out a few of the roughly 90 different vodkas available.
If it snows, you need only walk around San Francisco’s Little Russia neighborhood to get into Sochi-mode. The atmosphere is complete with a plethora of Russian restaurants, bakeries, and bars, as well as the memorable golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Holy Virgin Cathedral.
The Cold War may be over, but a trip down memory lane at the Russian Renaissance Restaurant is a great way to get in the mood. Originally opened in 1958, the joint not only serves great food, but also has live music on the weekends.
Or, if you just want to knock a few back, head over to the nominally Russian-themed Soda Popinsky’s. The bar, which is named after the Russian boxer in Nintendo’s Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, features a Russian Roulette drinking game, as well as a drink called the Vodka Drunkenski that is sure to make even curling seem exciting.
New York may be the ideal city to get into the Sochi spirit, with both high-brow and low-brow options to get a full Russian experience.
Life in Russia may be more than borscht and vodka shots, but it’s fun to imagine it that way. And there may be no better place in the U.S. to experience that side of Russia than Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, NY. A relatively new—but really fantastic—neighborhood Russian restaurant is Skovorodka, conveniently located near the subway. The menu features a variety of delicious dishes, including ones from the Georgia region (near Sochi) that include katchapuri, chicken tabaka, and kupati.
The best “experience,” however, may be found at Downhouse Lounge in Gravesend by the Avenue X stop. Expect to be surrounded by Russians of all shapes and sizes, and if you’re there at night, be prepared for the untz-untz-untz dance music. Keep in mind the “experience” part. One look through the Yelp reviews will tell you all you need to know. As one reviewer succinctly put it: “The security don't know how to work at all. One of him punched my girlfriend and kicked her in the street at her birthday party just because she said to the hostess stop being rude to her … There are only Russian customers who don't know [sic] how to behave on public.”
For highbrow patrons who are more familiar with Tolstoy than Ivan Drago, head to the Russian Tea Room. In addition to getting into the classy Olympic mindset, you’ll be transported to the bygone era of gilded New York.
It may not be black and white, but it’s certainly red all over. Bar Lubitsch is a great spot in West Hollywood for revelers to enjoy a good Russian time. Famous for its red-uniformed servers, as well as its killer Molotov cocktail, the bar also has an active dance floor—aptly named the Red Room—that’s not to be missed.
After working up an appetite, head over to Traktir, also in West Hollywood, to enjoy hearty food sent from Russia with love complete with a side of California sun.
Savory pastries are all the rage these days (okay, maybe not, but they’re still seriously delicious). Check out the popular bakery Piroshky Piroshky in Pike Place Market for some Eastern European stuffed delights.
Thanks to the increased popularity in the industrial aesthetic for restaurants, the brains behind the new Vostok Dumpling House thought the time was ripe for Soviet-style architecture, telling a local paper, they “wanted the name to reflect the idea behind the restaurant, which is the Soviet Union in the 1970s.” The menu features items from all over the region, including pelmeni, a Siberian hunter’s delight, as well as some sass—it describes its KGB Sauce as “The only thing Putin loves more than tigers is our hot KGB sauce.”
Historically, Sochi was Russia’s largest resort town. So, after a heavy meal and copious vodka-infused drinks, a spa trip to Banya 5 and its Russian sauna may be in order.
While the recent weather in Beantown may be enough to feel transported to Russia, a great dining option popular with local Russians is Café Stoli in Brookline Village. Also known as Bar Stoli and Restaurant, it meets many of the same criteria of others on this list: red décor, maybe a cheesy accordion player, as well as good Russian food and delicious vodka-infused drinks.