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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hedonistic Hungry Duck Closes Doors




That it stayed open as long as it did surprised many. But last week, after a run of more than three staggeringly hedonistic years, the Hungry Duck came up on the floor of the State Duma in angry speeches, and this week the owner of the bar gave up.


"They've tried to shut us down at least 30 times in the last three years and haven't succeeded, but there just finally comes a time when there's no more point in going on," said Doug Steele, 48, and a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in explaining his decision to close his highly successful nightlife institution near the Kuznetsky Most metro station.


"When I saw that they were talking about us in the Duma, I said, 'Boys, that's it.'"


Steele said he made the decision to give up on the Duck on Sunday. He said the bar's landlord, the police and the city authorities had all focused increasing attention and criticism on the club.


Then a few months ago, a group of Duma deputies came by on a tour of Moscow's club scene arranged by Ne Spat, a local Russian-language bar-hopping guide. It was ladies' night that evening, and according to Steele the Duma deputies walked in just as a male stripper from Nigeria was dancing on the bar with a female customer while the sound system blasted the Soviet national anthem.


Steele said the stripper was not actually naked, but the Hungry Duck made an unfavorable impression even so. Last week the bar was mentioned by name on the floor of the Duma amid impassioned debate over whether to revive the Soviet national anthem, with new lyrics, as the Russian national anthem.


It was not the first time the Hungry Duck was on national television - last year the bar staff made an appearance on NTV television's late-night sex discussion show Pro Eto. But by Sunday evening, the national anthem debate and the Hungry Duck even rated a mention on RTR television's wonkishly political Sunday evening news program "Zerkalo."


Steele decided enough was enough. The Hungry Duck's lease was due to expire at the end of the month anyway, and the landlord, the city and police had all told him he would have to change both the name of the bar and the concept behind it if he wanted to renew, Steele said.


"I told them I wasn't going to do that, so forget it," he said in a telephone interview.


Steele himself is not leaving Moscow - two of his other properties, the Chesterfield Cafe and Tibet Himalaya, are still going strong. And he bears no bad feeling about having to close the Duck, he said, although he is "upset for the staff and that we weren't able to have one final party."


Moreover, Steele said he has plans to revive the Duck itself - in Minsk.


The concept behind the Duck was brilliantly simple: Young women customers were brought in with free promotions, pumped full of free alcohol and treated to a strip show - and then encouraged to dance on the oval-shaped bar and perform their own impromptu shows.


That was "ladies' night," on Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays, and it quickly became known as one of the craziest scenes in the nation - or even, as The Washington Post once opined, in the entire world.


From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., after the women-only clientele had been downing free drinks for two hours, a crowd of eager men would be let in. The drinks, no longer free, were still cheap, and the music deafening.


The mix of alcohol and testosterone meant the Duck was always ripe for an accident - people dancing on bars or tables would fall off frequently - or a fight. Brawls fit for a spaghetti Western would break out on occasion, but more often, the bar's bouncers were on hand to ruthlessly eject troublemakers. The floor was generally a sticky mess of blood, vomit, beer, dirt and sweat.


From the moment it opened in 1995 the bar was famous - particularly in expatriate circles, where it was also controversial. But Steele said it managed to keep a low enough profile among Russian officialdom until last year, and particularly in the last three months.


Steele said he had a good relationship with the police from the local 18th police precinct, but said higher-ups in government and law enforcement - he did not say who - were pushing to close the bar.


"It's that whole communist mentality," he said. "We were really offensive to a certain type of person."


The bar's biggest opponent, he added, was its landlord, the Central House of Workers in the Arts, or TsDRI, a respected theater. Steele said TsDRI's representative had said the rent the Duck paid no longer justified the Duck's existence.


"The biggest driving force [behind the closure] was the landlord," Steele said.


TsDRI officials could not be reached Friday.


A duty officer for the 18th precinct, Yury Kirichkov, reached Friday by telephone, said that police had often had to deal with problems involving the Duck. Kirichkov refused to discuss those problems over the telephone and could not comment on Steele's claim that high city or law enforcement officials had sought to close the bar.The Hungry Duck was the subject of extensive media coverage, particularly in the West, that hyped its most salacious aspects, and Steele said he thought many people had gotten the wrong idea about the bar.


For one thing, he disputed reports that underage girls were regularly allowed in. "We were harsh about 18-and-over, if a girl showed up without a passport she didn't get in," he said.


"Whether you liked it or not it was still a fun place, but it just became too much of a publicity nightmare," Steele said.