St. Petersburg Nightlife
St. Petersburg is hardly hip compared to the major capitals of Europe, but it's waking up to what hip really is. The city's vibrant and evolving club scene is diverse enough to incorporate funky theme clubs, bunker-style techno venues, cozy artsy basements, run-down discos, cool alternative spots, and elegant hedonist establishments to keep the clubbers up all night. A local claim to clubber fame
is that Russia's rock movement was born in St. Petersburg, and almost all key names in the country's rock culture come from the city. The first bands emerged in the 1970s, when rock and roll was branded "alien music" and rock culture was repressed by the Soviet culture bosses. Underground musicians and artists refrained from contacts with state-run music organizations. They worked as night guards, boiler-room operators, or street cleaners and expressed their protest in rock ballads, which reached a wider audience only with the arrival of perestroika. Some of the most famous bands still play regular gigs—look for veteran bands like Akvarium, DDT, and Tequilajazzz. The strongest point of Russian rock ballads are the meaningful lyrics, but even without knowledge of the language, you can still feel the drive.
Even popular spots are well hidden and you need to know where to look. A good rule of thumb for tourists with little or no experience in Russia is to stick to the City Center, where you have several options: bohemian art clubs, trendy dance clubs, live-music venues, and simple pubs. Locals in the City Center are friendly and more than a few speak English—and foreigners aren’t the novelty they once were. If you're seeking the company of expats, you'll find them in centrally located Irish and British pubs or at low-key artsy bars such as Datscha. The historical center is abundant with expensive strip clubs, but these are meant for deep-pocketed foreign tourists and ravenous Russian beauties hunting for them. Beware that if you venture to a place beyond the historical center, the risk of being robbed or attacked by one of the city's many skinhead and hooligan gangs increases significantly.
Russia has adopted the concept of "face control" (a strict door policy) enthusiastically, but in schizophrenic St. Petersburg its rules can either fall to the whim of a zealous doorman or be ignored altogether depending on the character of the place. Generally, dirty clothes or men going shirtless will be frowned upon, and in the more glamorous spots designer gear and displays of wealth are expected. That said, St. Petersburg's nightclubs are more typically bars or music venues, where just about anything goes. Women are expected to wear feminine clothes, nice shoes—preferably with heels—and makeup. Men can be more relaxed, but Russian men like to wear dark colors, sports coats, and dress shoes. Cover prices vary wildly, depending on the type of place, the day of the week, the time of night, and whether there’s some sort of act on the bill. However, 500R is a fair average. Drink prices in a club are generally double what they are in a regular bar. Reliable, if pricey, taxis swarm around clubs until closing time. Note that there’s no official "last call"—bars and clubs may choose to close anywhere from midnight to 6 am.
The nightlife scene is ever changing, so it's always best to consult current listings. The most reliable English-language sources are the free St. Petersburg Times (www.sptimes.ru) or the monthly English-language issue of St. Petersburg in Your Pocket (www.inyourpocket.com). These publications include excellent unbiased club guides in addition to detailed listings. There are more comprehensive sources in Russian, such as the magazine Time Out (www.timeout.ru).
Unlike much of Europe and North America, Russia hasn’t yet opened up to the idea of gay men and lesbians. The scene in St. Petersburg is still in its embryonic stage and the few friendly and unpretentious venues that are available keep a relatively low profile. New laws restricting gay "propaganda" that have recently come into force may have a chilling effect on the scene, but it’s too early yet to tell what that may be. The best starting point into St. Petersburg's scene is www.gay.ru, which has some English content, including a "Traveller's Guide."
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City Center 7
Vladimirskaya (Lower Nevsky Prospekt) 7
Liteiny/ Smolny 4
Vasilievsky Island 1
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Bars/ Pubs 10
Dance Clubs 4
Music Clubs 10
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Gay and Lesbian 3