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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where Have All the Bohemians Gone? To Trety Put'

In the early 1990s, I lived the Generation X-pat lifestyle in Budapest, spending most of my days and nights in dingy, unventilated bars, caf?s, and clubs populated by pseudo-bohemians in black polo turtlenecks and thin girls with heavy eye makeup. The rest of my time I wasted.


When I left the irresponsible bliss of Central Europe for the wilds of Moscow, I hoped, vainly, that some remnants of the Russian bohemian scene I had encountered in Leningrad in 1991 had survived. Yes, it may be hard to believe, but there was once a laid-back, arty scene, which existed briefly alongside other heady and now-defunct ideals such as naive optimism about democracy and passionate advocacy of free speech. There were huge parties in semi-derelict apartment buildings, exotic characters like Afrika the artist and Zvuki Mu ("Moo Noises," the worst band in the world), not to mention the smell of Kazakh grass and Russian students in pre-deodorant days, plus pretentious conversations about poetry and avant-garde rock.


But, not much to my surprise, all that was conspicuously absent by the time I returned in April '95, killed off by poverty, harder drugs and cynicism. The the dilettante pseudo-intellectualism of Prague and Budapest all seemed very alien to high-rolling, high-octane mid-'90s Moscow. Or so I thought.


My first inkling of the existence of a Moscow bohemian scene was in the old days of Krisis Zhanra, an underground blues hangout that used to be (and to an extent still is) the stomping ground of students, artists and musicians. It was smoky, full, young, and people sat on the floor, a sure sign that sparks of the student spirit were alive and well and living in a basement near the Old Arbat. But even Krisis was wide of the mark; the younger crowd nursed their expensive drinks and secretly topped them off from their own bottles, while trendy New Russians dropped by for a bit of executive slumming and loud expats destroyed the atmosphere.


When a drunken, expensively dressed Russian banker threatened to beat me up for no particular reason, that was the last straw. I began to despair of ever finding a genuinely mellow hangout. Bedniye Lyudi, the cellar bar that masquerades as a bohemian bar with its rough-hewn furniture, unplastered walls and copper lamps, gives itself away with its $7 beers and immaculate toilets. No real bohemians here. Even the word bogema in Russian carries connotations of rich, beautiful, fashionable wastrels, as opposed to poor, artistic, intellectual wastrels.


But there is a ray of light shining through the darkness of yuppiedom and poshlost (the perfect Russian word for a very Russian concept: cheesiness, vulgarity, ostentation).


Trety Put', the last of a generation of Moscow squats/clubs to escape Mayor Luzhkov's purges, is a final refuge for Moscow's genuinely cool, young, arty crowd. The entrance is unmarked, there are no burly security guards, the stairway smells, and inside, the place looks just like a hastily converted apartment. In fact, it is a hastily converted apartment, done up with sheets of silver foil and slabs of cheap primary colors, junk shop furniture and bare bulbs. There's a chill-out room, a chess room (non-smoking, I noted with suspicion), a small stage and a bar (dirt cheap, keep your glasses).


The clientele is best defined by what it isn't: obnoxious, ostentatious, loud, shallow, brash, uncultured, arrogant, rude. Check this list against those who frequent most of Moscow's nightclubs, and the true wonder of Trety Put' becomes apparent. It's one of the very few places in town where you can feel relaxed and unthreatened, hold a normal conversation with random acquaintances and get drunk cheap.


This can't last, of course. I hear that the Russian Orthodox Church, the club's landlord, has its beady eyes on the property, and the local mafia boys are keeping a close watch lest foreigners and their money start to push the profits up to levels that make it a worthwhile extortion target. Is nothing sacred?