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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Weird Moscow

In a week that saw further trouble on Asian stock markets, as well as trouble right here at home with the suddenly less-than-sturdy ruble, Drinks Russia '97, the first international drinks fair for the Russian market, came as light relief.

Bar managers, restaurant owners and the drinking public headed for the glass and metal monstrosity known as Pavilion 69 at the All-Russia Exhibition Center, formerly the VDNKh. By mid-morning Wednesday, the place was mobbed.

"Has anyone seen my instrument?" asked the man in a German beer stand, with more bells on his lederhosen than an alpine goatherd.

"Who cares about your horn?" said Heidi beside him. She had closed the entrance to their intimate grotto and was attempting to fight back the crowds haranguing her for more beer.

A girl dressed as a bottle of Borzhomi squeezed past offering plastic cups of Russia's favorite mineral water, but no one seemed to notice.

Meanwhile, 24 nervous barmen were warming up for the Drinks Russia Cocktail Challenge in an enclosure at the back of the hall.

"The contestants have six minutes to prepare their cocktails," explained an efficient woman with a clipboard to the panel of judges. "They can use any drink from the bar," she said, indicating a pyramid of bottles piled as high as the ceiling, "and the theme is the 850th anniversary of Moscow."

The comp?re, Valery Moskalev, straightened his bow tie and the stopwatch began.

First off was Alexei Filatov, 21, from T.G.I. Fridays, who learned how to throw bottles into the air like Tom Cruise and Brian Boyd in the dismal movie "Cocktail" when he went to the States for intensive training. Unfortunately, he didn't appear to have learned how to catch them, and much of his six minutes was spent crawling under the bar retrieving them.

It must have been halfway through the fifth round that I started to lose concentration. The combination of blue cura?ao, vodka, tequila, Cointreau and Bacardi in Yaroslav Astakhov's Moscow Sky hot on the heels of Alla Shadrina's lethal Kremlin Tea knocked me sideways.

By noon, I never wanted to see another cocktail in my life.

At lunchtime, I cruised the other stands in the exhibition center, trying to focus on bar equipment and clever displays of bottle tops. I bumped into Filatov at a stall fitted out like the inside of an igloo, where girls in tight gold suits were handing out vodka shots.

How did he rate his chances of winning the competition, and the weekend for two in London to attend the Beefeater International Bartenders Competition early next year? I asked him.

"Pretty good," said Filatov. He knocked back his vodka and threw the glass into the air. By the time it hit the floor, sending the Bond girl and a family of papier-mache penguins flying, I was back on my bar stool waiting for the next round.