MOSCOW DRINKS: HEY, BARKEEP…

My spirit animal. That's right, I went for the double pun!

My spirit animal. That’s right, I went for a double pun!

I’m a cheater.

There, I said it. Despite regularly proclaiming my love for Bud Light and even entering into an unholy arrangement with its heftier sibling due to BL’s unavailability in Russia, on occasion I let a stray cocktail pass my lips. What can I say? Sometimes a girl wants a little variety, of a stronger persuasion.

Dry vodka martini with a twist has been my cocktail of choice for the last few years. To paraphrase FRIENDS’ Joey: “Vodka? Good! Dry Vermouth? Good! Lemon?! Good!!”  Simple and classic, right? Wrong.

Somehow, in the country that created the most famous martini drinker of all time (everyone knows that there is no hero without a proper villain; there’s no Cold War super-agent without the Cold War), no one has ever heard of a martini cocktail — gin or vodka, dirty or dry, shaken OR stirred.

Walk into a regular Moscow bar or restaurant and order a martini, I dare you.

Unless you’re at a posh, expat-heavy face-control lounge where even the bartenders speak fluent English, this is what you’ll get:

Looks more fun than it tastes.

Looks more fun than it tastes.

Sticky, herbal Sweet Vermouth (usually the Martini Bianco kind), on the rocks. Specify that you’d like a martini cocktail, and you’ll get bewildered looks, plus a thin straw and some lemon slices. Ask specifically for a vodka martini and you’ll be served a shot of vodka on the side, with a bonus death glare. And don’t even THINK about making a James Bond reference in your attempt to educate.

By the way, these establishments all have fully-stocked bars and a list of 30+ specialty cocktails ranging from the simple GinTo to Long Island Iced Tea to something called Green Paradise Tini. Where do they think the Tini in that comes from, huh?

After several martini-ordering fiascos, I decided to try out a new approach at one of my regular haunts (an offbeat noodle/sushi place which I previously covered here). The staff already know my sister and me, so I figured I could get away with being a bit of a pain in the ass, especially toward the end of the dinner rush.

After running up a decent ‘ingratiation’ tab, and making sure that the rarity that is dry vermouth in Russia was indeed in stock, I waited for the waitress to drop out of sight and approached the barkeep with a request of 2 shots of vodka and a splash of dry vermouth shaken with ice, poured into a single glass. The word ‘martini’ was never uttered, lest I confused the poor chap.

That sounds like a cocktail.

Yes.

Sorry, it’s not on the list.

I know, that’s why I am asking for it to be made custom. PLEASE :-D.

We don’t do ‘splashes’ — you will have to buy shots.

Ok, I will buy shots.

However, they only sold double shots of vermouth, so I had to make a secret deal with the bartender that I will be charged, by the book, for 1 [double] shot of vermouth and 1 shot of vodka, but he will pour two shots of vodka and half a shot [so really, normal, single shot] of vermouth, and then he will secretly shake the ingredients together. Surreptitiousness was paramount to the success of my venture — if all that naughty shaking was spotted by other staff, the barkeep would get in trouble for making an unlisted cocktail. I was practically turning this place into a Prohibition-era speak-easy!

Dry martini, Russian-style.

SUCCESS! Dry vodka martini, Russian-style.

Lemon slices on the side and an unnecessary ice cube were free of charge. Cheers to that!

Is there a cocktail you crave that you can’t get at your current locale? Do you make it yourself?

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46 thoughts on “MOSCOW DRINKS: HEY, BARKEEP…

  1. Well, Germany is a nation of beer drinkers. In every corner of the country there is anyone who brews his own beer, of course, after all the legal purity. So the thought of an American beer to like it here, of course, unthinkable! In my small town, there is no bar where you would get a really good cocktail. And most of all I’m an Aperol Spritz, which reminds me of Italy. He tastes like I like it, I make it better myself.

    • I have never tasted Aperol, though it looks like someone I could find in Russia, at least in bottle form. I think if I lived in Germany, I’d be so happy with all the beers (and glorious BREAD!!!), there would be a lot less cocktail whining. But sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants…

  2. Sorry, gin martini drinker in Los Angeles – no problems here. However, when the mojito crave first hit, you could not get a decent one in the states outside of Florida. We have had some improvement since then.

    I was a bartender in college. We have a secret handshake so you never have a problem with special requests – honor among thieves and all that.

    • Mojitos are the latest HUGE fad in Moscow. They are served everywhere. I haven’t tried them (I am of firm conviction that mint belongs in gum and toothpaste only), but I don’t have much faith in their proper execution here. You have to come, taste and give a stamp of [dis]approval!

  3. Hahaha, that exhange with the bartender was so typically Russian! Oh my.

    I absolutely can’t stand vermouth, so I’m not missing out, I guess. The only thing I miss here is a coffee with Bailey’s. Not that it’s not available in Moscow, just that it’s so expensive I can never bring myself to buy it.

    • Centuries from now students around the world will use this story as an example of overcoming adversity and persevering in the face of hardship! 😉

  4. I’ve never had a martini…they always look a bit serious and grown-up. I like some bubbles or chocolate or a bit of fun in my cocktails. Maybe if I could hang a plastic monkey over the edge or pop some maraschino cherries in my martini, I’d give it a go – or would that mar its authenticity??

  5. That’s INSANE! The country that is vodka heaven – doesn’t do martinis? That’s so funny! But damn, those things are hella dangerous – since they really are just booze mixed with more booze to make it super-booze. I had a few martini nights in my younger days – usually just a pint of beer kind of guy – but my wife’s friends are into that kind of stuff and I played along from time to time – and whew! Got blasted sooooo fast on those suckers. Made for some.. interesting nights though. — Love how you got your way with getting your drink your way – you gals are so devious 🙂

    • Not devious – entrepreneurial 😀
      And martinis arent evil – for a New York girl, two-martini lunches and 3-martini dinners are practically de rigueur!
      Hopefully your bar is well-equipped for my visit…

      • Yeah – I suppose it’s a touch classier to sip a martini (or three) at those fab NY nosheries than to chug a pint! — My stocks were depleted after my wife’s friends came over for girls hot-tub day last Spring – but I still have half bottles of Stoli and Absolut and on the gin front an unopened bottle of Bombay Sapphire – enough to get a decent party started at least 🙂

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