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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Violent Place to Have Lunch?

Ordinarily, the presence of stretch limousines, new Mercedes and other expensive cars parked outside a Moscow restaurant is a sign that the place is one of the city's upscale dining spots for the nouveau riche.


But for neighbors, diners and police, Moscow's Zakarpatskie Uzory restaurant has quite a different reputation: As the meeting place of one of Moscow's more brutal underworld gangs.


Among the incidents that police say took place this year are: a shooting inside the restaurant, a grenade thrown from a moving car at the restaurant window (it missed), a knife fight among diners that left one Chechen national dead and a bomb that was found this week by a cleaning lady. Police successfully defused it.


"At least two or three times a week, the police are called in to break up a fight between rival gangs", said Yury Strelnikov, the police chief for the precinct in which the restaurant is located. "Almost every day, someone has had something stolen at this restaurant".


The restaurant's director, Ivan Gritsenko, insists that his restaurant is as safe as anywhere in Moscow, calling the incidents "ordinary restaurant scandals". But he said that since the bomb attack, he has stepped up security.


"We are more attentive", he said, "We don't let our visitors in with big bags or suitcases".


A breakdown in bureaucratic control of Russia as well as declining living standards have led to a rising crime rate that includes an increase in the number of organized criminal groups in Russia.


According to an Interior Ministry spokesperson the number of such groups has more than doubled since the end of last year from about 3, 000 to more than 6, 300.


Located at 2 Nizhegorodskaya Ulitsa in Moscow's Taganka region, the Zakarpatskie Uzory restaurant, built for the 1980 Olympics, has a circular dining room dressed in Soviet decor. A typical lunch costs about 5, 000 rubles ($5), or one-sixth of the average Muscovite's monthly salary. An affluent clientele is thus guaranteed.


Outside the restaurant Thursday, two 13-year-old boys were washing customer's cars for at least $5 each - an extraordinary amount of money by Moscow standards - and said they were not afraid of the work. Indeed, customers interviewed at the establishment said they were unconcerned by its record of violence.


"Of course it is a dangerous place", said a woman who identified herself only as Tatyana. "But it is dangerous everywhere in Moscow".


Another diner also played down the restaurant's reputation.


"We come here all the time", he said. "The militia are exaggerating the number of incidents here".


Restaurant director Gritsenko agreed.


"Even the metro is dangerous", he said. "A bomb may appear anywhere. I personally don't think this restaurant is dangerous".


But Strelnikov of the police department said the repeated violence was reason enough for him personally to stay away.


"I wouldn't go there with my family", he said.