Ottomans, Russians have been fond of calling Moscow "the Third Rome." While it never became the center of a global empire, in modern Russia it's no exaggeration to say that all roads lead to Moscow. When describing their city, Muscovites reach for superlatives. This habit might be a holdover from the Soviet Union, but they're no longer boasting about the biggest cement factory. After years of growth during which Russia transformed into a swaggering economic superpower, its capital has become a world-class destination, flaunting the dynamism of a city with something to prove.
Author Jake Rudnitsky Photography RIA NOVOSTI / TOPHAM / THE IMAGE WORKS / IRA BLOCK / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STOCK , FEILER FOTO STUDIO / STOCK FOOD , RICHARDT . NOWITZ / CORBIS , SIME S.A.S / ESTOCK PHOTO
DAY THREE / If you’re observing local customs, you may be wondering, with some discomfort, how Russians can drink so much and still function. The answer lies in their secret hangover remedy: the banya, or bathhouse. So start your day by taking a cab to the 1 Sanduny Banya, Moscow’s most famous spa. With a history stretching back to the 19th century, it features soaring columns, marble busts and lots of nude locals wandering about (men and women are kept separate). Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do—Russians take particular pleasure in introducing foreign guests to the banya. The various stages of getting whipped by birch branches, subjected to scalding steam and dunked in cold water may sound like a form of torture, but nothing is as rejuvenating.
Having purged your system, head toward the Teatralnaya square and grab a light lunch at 2 The Most, a fashionable nightspot that, during the day, offers an excellent French menu in an over-the-top rococo atmosphere. From here, have the maître d’ order a taxi to take you to 3 Vinzavod, one of Moscow’s best contemporary art complexes.
Opened in a former winery in an old industrial quarter, the Vinzavod campus houses various contemporary galleries. While much of the area has yet to be reclaimed, each year more galleries pop up. There’s also a small shopping center with cafés and fashion boutiques. After you’ve had your fill of the arts, ask directions to the nearby 4 Kurskaya Metro station and follow the map home.
Before you stop for a nap, walk two blocks from the Baltschug to the 5 Tretyakov Gallery, which may be the largest depository of European masterpieces you’ve never heard of. The Tretyakov has everything from Russian icons to Kazimir Malevich’s avant-garde Black Square. The collection of 19th Century Realist paintings is spectacular, as are the portraits of Russian giants like Leo Tolstoy.
After your rest, it’s time to freshen up and see Moscow at its most decadent. Start by heading left out of the Baltschug. Less than a block away you’ll find 6 GQ Bar, one of the toniest restaurants in town. You’ll know you’ve arrived by the fleets of Hummers and Audis outside. As you wait for a table, grab a drink at the bar and contemplate how it is that Russian women manage to be so mobile in stilettos. The menu is equal parts European and Asian; go for the Kamchatka crab and excellent ribeye.
Around 1am, the party starts. Make your way over to 7 Rai Club to learn about “face control,” one of new Moscow’s signature institutions. As you approach the club, the traffic jam out front makes the scene at GQ look like a junkyard—Bentleys, Ferraris and Maybachs clog the street as they unload Moscow’s most decadent. Rai (which means “paradise” in Russian) even has a fleet of Porsche Cayenne taxis. “Face control” means that if you are neither (a) a celebrity, (b) worth over $10 million nor (c) a model, you’re probably not getting in. If you do, it’s easy to see why they’re so selective: The club features legions of go-go dancers, Cirque du Soleil–worthy acrobats and synchronized swimmers doing their thing in a pool. Those who are turned away needn’t despair, though. Take a walk to 8 Wall Street Bar, where you’ll find a more relaxed door policy, an all-night party and at least as many off-duty bankers and models as there are at Rai.
By six in the morning, as the fun winds down, you may wonder why you paid for the last night at the Baltschug. But as they say, when in the Third Rome, do as the Russians do…