Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Night of the Living Expats, III

The scene was fittingly grotesque. Cobwebs hung from dim light bulbs illuminating drunken bodies that lay scattered throughout the disused 18th-century theater. A network of completely bare rooms provided some respite from the hellish crowds packed on and around a dance floor, festooned with three life-sized rubber corpses.


"This is the best party I've been to this year," said Sophie, a 28-year-old accountant from Britain, while dancing at Saturday's third-annual Halloween party.


In what was certainly one of the biggest events in Moscow's expatriate social calendar, some 800 people paid 50,000 rubles ($9.19) each to hear the top Russian band Dva Samolyota, to consume 200 bottles of vodka, 60 cases of beer and otherwise celebrate the American pagan holiday, Halloween.


"I haven't been in a crush like this since Michael Jackson," gasped Lena, a student from Ivanovo as she emerged from the scrum of people on their way to the room where a makeshift bar had been set up. Like most people, Lena made some effort to mark the occasion, forking out 30,000 rubles for a monster mask from a kiosk.


This year the standard procession of nocturnal freaks rubbed shoulders with some unconventional departures from the Halloween theme. Looking like a cross between a Russian Orthodox patriarch and a coffin, Harry Stevens, 28, a British business-development manager currently between jobs, looked decidedly uncomfortable as a table napkin. His American girlfriend, Laura, similarly between jobs, complemented his outfit as a carrot.


In a similar vein, one of the barmen who had obviously indulged himself in one drink too many took to handing out vodka by the bottle. One surprised guest received three bottles of vodka when they had in fact asked for three glasses, said Otto Pohl, a professional photographer and one of the two American organizers. When the alcohol dried up around 11:30 p.m., that same barman looked thoroughly ill and more than a little relieved to be done with his job and have a chance to turn his attention toward the party's female guests, who unsuspectingly wandered into his field of impaired vision.


Some revelers, overcome by the crowds and lack of alcohol, left to seek out alternative venues in which to continue drinking. "You can't move in here," sniffed Oleg, a 25-year-old sales manager for a Western firm, as he headed off to the nightclub 011 with friends. The toilets posed another challenge for the poor unfortunates who gritted their teeth at the back of a women's lavatory line that reached a depth of 10 people at times. "I can't wait any longer," moaned Olga, 25, a courier, who joined the hordes heading outside for a private moment.


Pohl said Monday that they were "walking a fine line between a good party and a Guatemalan soccer match." Pohl added that he and co-organizer Preston Mendenhall had hired two militiamen to keep an eye on the crowd, which they had been expecting to number about 500, up from last year's 300.


"When it's free, people hit the alcohol hard," said Mendenhall, a producer at NBC television's Moscow bureau, adding that there were no fights or incidents all evening.


All the same, by 1 a.m. the raucous party had proved a little too much for the neighbors in what is, for the most part, a residential area close to the Foreign Ministry. Three militiamen took the stage and were greeted with riotous foot stamping and shouts of protest. The trio's message was clear however: either you turn it down or we turn it off.


But the crowd seemed undeterred by the heavy hand of the law, and within no time at all the DJs cranked the music back up and the party was once more in full swing. The last guests departed the theater, slated for renovation, around 4:30 a.m.


Mendenhall and Pohl, who said they made no profit off the party, said they are already discussing possible themes for their next party. "There is so much crass, cheesy commercialism in Moscow's nightlife" said Pohl. "But if you know the right people, it's easy to get permission to throw a really good party."


Mendenhall said Sunday that a beach party complete with sand and volleyball court is a distinct possibility for February, Moscow's coldest month of the year. "Bikinis will be compulsory," he added.