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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 February, 2004, 23:31 GMT
Russian nightlife reflects economic transition

By Hugh Fraser
BBC World Service business reporter in Moscow

Russia's turbulent path towards a market economy - with new oil firms growing large and service sector firms like travel agents and beauty salons emerging - is reflected in Moscow's lively night scene.

Hungry Duck revellers (www.hungryduck.com)
A new crowd is filling Hungry Duck's dance floor.
The city's Hungry Duck night club - a dark, pulsating tavern - has mirrored the changes.

These days it is packed with a young crowd of Russian revellers intoxicated with the overtly sexy atmosphere. But it was not always like that.

During the mid 1990s, Moscow's night clubs were full of rich foreigners.

Expatriates' haven

Businessmen hungry for all Russia had to offer seemed to spend more nights than days awake.

The city's night scene was dominated by these men and their companions - young Russian women who were either their girlfriends, potential girlfriends or, quite frequently, prostitutes.

The Hungry Duck was, and still is, famous for the allowing clubbers to dance on top of the bar.

In the early hours of the morning, many of them seem impelled to remove some or all of their clothes - a tradition that was born in the 1990s and remains alive and, literally, kicking.

But in 1998, the Asian financial crisis quickly swept through the world's emerging markets and soon reached Moscow.

The government defaulted on its debts, the markets crashed, and most of the foreigners packed their bags.

Local revellers

Many of the clubs closed, never to open their doors again.

Hungry Duck show (www.hungryduck.com)
Hungry Duck clubbers love to dance on top of the bar
But the Hungry Duck survived.

The iconic club emerged under new management and attracted a new type of crowd.

Young, not quite as affluent as before and mostly local, the newcomers soon filled the club's dark chambers, copying much of the behaviour of its previous clientele.

"Some customers are very good, very funny," said Vika, a professional dancer who strips at the club and entices the clubbers to do likewise.

Good riddance

The departure of the foreign men who used to throng the club is regretted by only a few.

American Mark Ames, editor of The Exile newspaper dedicated to expatriates, has more reason than most to rue their parting.

But he does not.

"I left the United States to get away from just those sort of people," he said.

"There was a time when they filled every corner of Moscow.

"After the [financial] crisis, they couldn't get jobs because most of them weren't that qualified."


Elsewhere on Moscow's night scene, an even more affluent crowd of Russians are in evidence.

"We are serving a new category of people, the so-called new professionals," said Oleg Tinkoff, insisting he set up his giant beer hall because he was unable to find a decent place to enjoy a drink at the weekends.

"They are going to replace the so-called 'new Russians'" he added, referring to the conspicuously rich who did well out of the privatisations of the 1990s.

"They are the people who work in banks and big corporations. They are a new generation who have money."

Which is just as well, given that Mr Tinkoff's unfiltered, unpasteurised, live beer is the most expensive in Moscow.

Paying more than $5 ($2.8) for a glass of beer is an attractive alternative to drinking the beers of the past, when it was sometimes adulterated with shampoo to make it foamy, Mr Tinkoff insisted.

Changing fortunes

Mr Tinkoff believes that anyone who sets up a beer hall in Moscow and does it well can expect a return on their investment within three years.

But it is not so clear that the Hungry Duck makes as much money as it did in the old days.

Many of the young Russians who go there are not yet rich.

Neither the bar nor the cafe seemed particularly busy.

"Back in the old days a lot of foreign men were let in for free." said American Rich Moncher of enjoymoscow.com and one of the few expatriates who still visit the club regularly.

"It made sense, let them come here and spend $50 or $80 at the bar, and forget about the $5 entrance fee.

"It was obviously doing much better in the mid to late 1990s."

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