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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reigning Queen of Bohemia

The bohemian babushka squints her eyes and smiles. Adorned with intricate silver rings on her fingers and long earrings that tease her shoulders, she sits at an enormous round table at her own downtown club, sipping black English tea.

At eight in the evening, the room is quiet. A lamp radiating an easy, golden glow hangs from the ceiling. The scene is reminiscent of the Brezhnev-era kitchens of the Russian intelligentsia.

Irina Papernaya, Moscow's hippest grandma, is in her element.

It would be overkill to call Papernaya "the force" behind some of Moscow's most popular clubs, so "a genius" will have to suffice.

A former script consultant at the famous Tabakov Theater, she can now be found at all hours of the p.m. making the rounds at Chinese Pilot (Kitaisky Lyotchik) Dzhao Da and the Cooker House (Dom Kukera), a two-in-one club opened less than a year ago that has since become the choice destination for all sorts of young and not-so-young pleasure seekers.

Many attribute its near instant success to Papernaya.

In fact, businessmen seeking detailed advice on how to start up a club occasionally ring up the woman some consider a master in the field. But Papernaya usually just heads for the shadows - she has no interest in such banalities.

"My business is people and atmosphere," she said Wednesday. "Today, everyone wants to open a club. But clubs [in Moscow] ought to be different than Western clubs."

Papernaya said that her latest venture is a place for "the spiritual elite."

Located a short hop from Metro Kitai-Gorod, Chinese Pilot ("Lyotchik," or "The Pilot" for people in the know) isn't the only Moscow bar that's been blessed with the Papernaya magic.

The first was Bely Tarakan, or the White Cockroach, which she opened in 1993 with her son, theater-actor-turned-musician Alexei Paperny. Today, he performs in Moscow clubs with his group Paperny Tam and recently directed a play, Tverbul (an acronym for Tverskoi Bulvar), about city youths.

Creativity runs in the family: Papernaya's father was the prominent Soviet poet and critic Zinovy Paperny.

"We opened Tarakan on Theater Day [March 27] and the patrons were people who enjoyed the theater," Papernaya said of the once popular club, which also served as a rehearsal studio for her son.

Known for its cheap beer and avant-garde feel, the Cockroach boasted an ironic locale, next door to local police headquarters at 38 Ulitsa Petrovka. When Papernaya speaks of the bar, which closed in 1995, her voice rings with fond nostalgia - it's the favorite of all her projects, she said.

"It was my son's club," she said.

The Cockroach, which was eventually closed by its landlord, gave birth to a series of similar bars opened by Papernaya's family and friends.

These places - among them, Paris Life, Krizis Zhanra, Tabula Rasa and Propaganda (pictured on page I) - are for many club-goers still the very best of the Moscow scene.

But, today, the absolute darling is the Pilot. And, in keeping with the Papernaya style - the Cockroach had no bugs - the Pilot has no Chinese food. Suggestive of a Greenwich Village cafe, the cellar haven offers up a menu of inexpensive eats and live bands - from Russian to Finnish to Tuvan, from the obscure to top-10 regulars.

No Chinese, perhaps, but "there is an ethnic trend here," Papernaya said.

Fliers litter the tables at the Pilot, but patrons rarely tear themselves away from the music or the food or the company to read them. If they had, they would know that the club is based on the legend of the Chinese pilot Dzhao Da, who fought in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, married a French woman and somehow ended up living in a forgotten Russian village. In fact, it's not all fantasy. Dzhao Da actually lived and is the ancestor of the club's owner, a Chinese business man also named Dzhao Da.

According to Papernaya, Dzhao Da was "very surprised" when the Papernys chose to name the club after him. He did, however, like the idea and ended up adding a photograph of his flying forebear to the club's decor.

"Even though he's a businessman, Dzhao Da is a very romantic person," Papernaya said. "Because, if you're a rich Chinese man, you're taking quite a risk to start something like this."

The story of the Chinese pilot was followed later by the (wholly fictional) tale of Joe Cooker, a British traveler who crossed the ocean on a tiny raft, drinking afternoon tea at five o' clock sharp every day.

The story, invented by Paperny, goes that once Cooker spotted Dzhao Da's plane high above in the sky.

"Cooker is a spiritual friend of the pilot, although they've never met," said Papernaya, who opened Cooker House in honor of the English wayfarer, in February.

Unlike its analog across the hall, the quieter Cooker tearoom isn't quite as popular as the Pilot, according to Papernaya.

"People come and they want to eat, but there are no main courses here," she said of Cooker, which serves only snacks, cakes and beverages.

"It's a quiet place, so people prefer to stay at the Pilot," she said.

Quiet or no, both Cooker and the Pilot are unqualified successes on the city club scene.

And the mother and son team are gearing up to launch yet another project - a bar that will also feature a theatrical stage, where performances tailored for a clubbing crowd will be held.

Of course, the question of sponsorship money looms, but Paperny, at least, isn't worried.

"Mom knows how to relate to people better than anyone I know," he said.

See pages IV to VII for addresses of clubs Chinese Pilot, Cooker House, Propaganda, Tabula Rasa, Krizis Zhanra and Paris Life.