My mother's maiden name is Shostakovich, as in Dmitri, and perhaps this is why I feel so at home in Russia. (I wish I felt equally at home with my musical abilities.) Moscow is one of the most complex destinations on earth. It is gritty, political, exotic, expensive, and home to some of the most mesmerizing people and experiences one can find. Not even in Paris will you find such gorgeous women who have perfected the art of looking hopelessly bored. Moscow defines the beauty-and-the-beast dichotomy, thronged with porky, leather-clad fellas who cart around breathtaking women on each arm for sport. And Moscow appears to be permanently stuck in the '80s. You'll see stone-washed jeans, fringe, neon, and all sorts of teased and badly dyed big hair, perhaps a byproduct of the struggle—and our dear Bella Russia has seen one or two—that creates the sharp eyes and discerning faces on those with whom you meet.
A trip here—for business or pleasure—is sure to awaken your senses, empty your wallet, and open your eyes. Be sensible with your planning. Visas are tough to come by and this adventure takes careful planning.
In Moscow, everything worth experiencing is overpriced: food, nightclubs, caviar, and yes, hotels. This is a city where location matters, and you are dead without a good concierge, so pay attention.
You cannot find a better-located hotel than The Ritz-Carlton Moscow. It is literally on Red Square, next to the Kremlin. As of now, it is the only hotel that can boast this accolade. The roof terrace at the Ritz is one of the best I’ve ever seen, with cocktails to match, and that delicious layer cake just off in the distance. It makes you wonder what Stalin would do if he could see visitors quaffing Veuve Cliquot in this historic spot. Indoors, the executive lounge is an oasis in a sea of busy-ness and business. There are the typical on-site restaurants and one heck of a wine room, but you’re not coming here for that. It’s location, location, location. Be on the lookout for the ebullient and handsome PR guy, Sergey Logvinov; he is the man to know. There are 334 quite spacious rooms and suites (a rarity in this town) kitted out handsomely with touches like cherry-wood interiors and marble from the Altrai Mountains. Rates from $500 per night.
The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow Tverskaya Street 3 8 (495) 225-88-88 www.ritzcarlton.com
For a quieter yet more expensive—and dare I say, more elegant—option, consider the Ararat Park Hyatt. It’s still conveniently situated, at best a five-minute walk to the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, but it is a more discreet option for those on business or looking to take in Moscow from a relatively controlled perspective. The architecture is a bit stark, but the service is divine. Try the atrium bar upstairs, which is rumored to be named for the site where Noah’s Ark is believed to have landed on Mount Ararat. (In Russia, there is always a story.) 216 rooms and suites; rooms from $800 and suites from $1,450.
Ararat Park Hyatt moscow.park.hyatt.com 4 Neglinnaya Street 8 (495) 783-12-34
There are few boutiques worth considering in Moscow—this is a city that likes big and flash. The Golden Apple Boutique Hotel defies these standards and is the place for the hip and happening. Opened in 2004, it is one of the best little places to stay in Moscow. The amenities conceived by Canadian architect Raphael Shafir are worth the experience alone. Bright, bold colors, amazing flowers, and a 24-hour Jacuzzi are bound to agree with you, if not earn you a new friend or two. Beware that the rooms are small (if you want size, the Ritz is your option), but mere steps from the Hermitage Garden, this seven-story, 92-room gem remains a GWS favorite.
Golden Apple Boutique Hotel 127006, г. Москва, улица Мал. Дмитровка 8 (495) 980-70-00 goldenapple.ru www.goldenapple.ru/en/hotel
Pushkin is a homage to the 19th century. Built to resemble an old mansion, with accessories authentic to the era, Pushkin is a place that both visitors and locals visit, 24 hours a day. Set out over three floors (with menus and prices to match accordingly), I had one of the most memorable meals of my life here many years back, when I discovered what real caviar should taste like (not to mention drank enough vodka to make my head scream). It is an institution, albeit a litte kitsch, but that’s all of Moscow, and the people-watching is tremendous. By night, sit inside the main dining room; by day, try the conservatory up front. Do not leave here without trying the black caviar and buckwheat pancakes (they’re sold as an appetizer, but if you’re feeling lush you can order more than one) and the cherry dumplings are a Russian delicacy. The sauerkraut soup takes 24 hours to cook and is as good as you’ll find anywhere. Prices are fairly reasonable, considering you're eating like a tsar.
Cafe Pushkin Moscow, Tverskoy bulvar 26a 8 (495) 739-00-33 www.cafe-pushkin.ru/en
For those of you looking to experiment, try Sunday brunch at Turandot. It is unreal. Named for Puccini’s opera, after the beautiful icy princess of the Forbidden City, this entire place is a modern-day riddle. You are greeted by a non-descript hallway before entering a marble courtyard and surrounding rooms filled with hand-painted chairs, costumed staff, and gilded everything. Think I’m kidding? There is a songbird in a gold cage. Turandot occupies an enormous swath of an old building (that also has a massive parking lot underneath) and rumors are that the owners—Andrei Dellos, who is also responsible for Pushkin—spent between $25 million and $75 million renovating this into a gold-plated extravaganza. I won’t tell you any more, except that the cuisine is Chinese (which seriously puzzled me) and included the obligatory Japanese items, which seem to be mandatory in Moscow restaurants. Brunch is the best option; $100 gets you the food and the experience.
Turandot 26/5 Tverskoi Bulvar +7 (495) 739-0011 www.turandot-palace.ru
After the sceney experiences—and there are many in Moscow—one craves home cooking. I had dreams about pelmeni of old and that deep chocolate-colored pumpernickel bread, which made a meal at Stanislavskogo 2 so blissfully rare and amazingly tasty. Set in a private home and run by a mother-daughter pair—Polish chef and mother Rosalie Korodzievskaya in the back and daughter Emilie Souptel greeting you in front as hostess—it is a gorgeous way to spend an evening. The room is tiny, with perhaps six small tables. There are varying paintings and murals on the wall, an upright piano, and frilly lampshades. You can see the kitchen, but only just. The mystique is that you can’t book a table here, you have to be recommended and Emilie has to know you. This keeps the clientele controlled and they in turn keep the restaurant open as long as you would like to linger over your meal. Delicious dumplings, soup, dill, and an amalgam of Russian and Polish treasures await. It is heavenly. And just when you think the night can’t become more magical, a young person enters to play the piano. And when I say play, I mean play—Emilie has an arrangement with a prestigious local music school and their best students get some extra practice here. The Rachmaninov that our young host played was the best I’d ever heard. With prices the lowest in Moscow, Stanislavskogo 2 is a find. Try to get yourself in; it is the best dining experience you’ll have in Russia.
No trip to Moscow is complete without a stroll through Red Square. You have to do this and tick the box. Avoid the street vendors and tourist traps, and instead focus on the majesty of your location. From there, you should get yourself to Vladimir Lenin’s Tomb at the Kremlin. Rumors say that they’re removing this mausoleum from public viewing. You’ll learn weird stats about the temperature of his sarcophagus (16 degrees) and what cocktail of humidity and preservatives are necessary to keep this famous communist on view some 85 years after his passing.
www.moscow.info/red-square/lenin-mausoleum.aspx Open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., closed Mondays and Fridays
When you’re done with Red Square, try a quick trip through the prechod. These underground passageways lead to the subway system and are historic. They’re mostly filled with kiosks of random tchotchkes, but one trip down will show you the movements of the locals and is well worth it. If you can, take the train to the department store TSUM (pronounced tsoom). It has, hands down, the most impressive collection of skin-care and perfumery in the world. Even the men will be impressed.
г. Москва, улица Петровка, 2 8 (495) 692-11-57 www.tsum.ru
Those of you seeking culture with a bit of glamour should be on the lookout for the newly minted Russian Museum of Fashion, opened in late 2009. Run by Vladimir Semenov, ex-member of State Duma RF, its forthcoming exhibition, Extending the Runway: Tatiana Sorokko Style, is expected at the end of March. It is home to a collection of rare couture from Balmain, Balenciaga, Patou, Gaultier, Yamamoto, and Lanvin, and accessories from Russian supermodel Sorokko’s private collection. GWS has had a sneak look at both and my tip is to get there early. The exhibition will run through May and is tres chic.
And lest you leave Moscow without an epic nightclub experience, I suggest the following: The Soho Rooms are notorious and utterly impossible to get in to and Rai, which means heaven, is of a similar standard. A night at either is life-changing. Both require strict “face control,” which crudely put, means if you are attractive, you’ve got a shot and if not, don’t even bother. Contact Natasha Bure at www.concept108.ru—she can’t work miracles to get you in, but she’s damn close.
город Москва, Саввинская набережная, 12 строение 9 8 (495) 988-74-74 soho-rooms.dj.ru http://www.sohorooms.com/
Being too touristy. Moscow is a tricky spot and if you’re a tourist you have to be careful. Always carry your passport (police can ask for papers at any time) and don’t be overtly anything (especially American).
You cannot come to Moscow on a budget. It is, without question, the most expensive place you will ever visit. Dinners can easily turn into four-figure extravaganzas and hotels are extremely costly, and on the whole you’re going to shell out a lot of money. Be sensible and ensure that you’re coming here with a purpose.
Lastly, the Swiss Hotel is as rude a hotel as you’ll find in this town. It is not worth it and you will be disappointed by their lack of care for guests. They are too rude to deserve customers. Avoid it.
Jolie Hunt travels on her own dime for more than 50 percent of the year. Her recommendations are aimed at business travelers who are short on time but not on taste. She is the global head of public relations for Thomson Reuters, appointed April 2008. She lives between New York and London.