St. Petersburg

A night out to a strange but fun little pub.

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

Nino, Galina, Sasha & Vladimir by the water for a drink.
After an overnight ride on the train we arrived in St. Petersburg. First, I have to tell you a little about the train. They're quite comfortable, if a little cramped for sleeping, but not bad. However, I was so fascinated by the Russian landscape rolling by in the night, I stood by the window looking out for over an hour. Strange, small buildings rolled by, and countryside that went on for miles and miles. A fog hung over everything, illuminated by the bright moonlight. Very surreal, indeed.

The downside to this wonderful experience appeared in the morning. I woke with a terrible cough and sore throat, compliments of the cold air by the window the night before. Wonderful, I thought. My first day in Petersburg, and here I was sick. I had tried throughout the whole trip to be very careful about becoming ill, lest I end up wasting time, laid up in a bed somewhere.

Nino's friend Galina met us at the station and dropped us off at her apartment before heading to work. I decided to try and shake off my illness before it settled in for good, so I gathered up a healthy dose of various medicines, including my old pal Excedrin PM (with an extra additive that would put an elephant to sleep), and collapsed into bed.

I woke up around five in the afternoon, still with the cough. Galina came home a short time later and we headed out for dinner. Now I was getting a bit frustrated thinking I'd have this cough, and a runny nose just for extra discomfort, for the rest of the trip. We decided on a Chinese restaurant and I thought maybe some hot soup would help.

St. Isaac's Cathedral, 1818-58.
The soup was okay, and the wine a mild comfort, but I still felt pretty bad. While we were eating Nino and Galina started joking with two guys over at the next table. They were complaining they didn't get any bread with their meal, so they offered them our leftovers, which they accepted. Funny, everytime I heard Russians laughing, I always assumed they were talking about me.

They invited us for a drink by the river, just a short distance from the restaurant. I didn't want to be a bad sport, so I agreed for maybe a drink or two, and then back to bed for an attempted recovery. I decided the mature thing to do was to sacrifice one night in Petersburg, hoping for a full recovery by morning.

We got in a small Russian car, Sasha and Vladimir in the front and Nino, Galina, and I squeezed in the back. Sasha popped a cassette tape in the player; did my ears deceive me? No, it was none other than Satchmo himself, Louis Armstrong, one of my all time favorites. When I started doing my best Louis, "Well, Hello Dolly! Well, Hello Dolly!, the driver and passenger turned around in amazement, "Horosho! Ochen Horosho!" they exclaimed. And were all instantly the best of friends.

These first couple of pictures here were my first sights of beautiful St. Petersburg. What a city! All three of them were visible from the boat docked by the river where we had our cocktails. I instantly saw a huge difference between Moscow and Petersburg. Petersburg had remained much of its historical architecture and style, while Moscow had receieved the bulldozer treatment when the bolsheviks moved the capitol there after the revolution.

The central tower of the Admiralty, 1806-23.
As we drove on our way to a pub Sasha and Vladimir wanted to take us to, I stared out the window in amazement at the beauty of St. Petersburg. We drove past waterways lined with beautiful nineteenth century buildings. Our hosts pointed out various landmarks and monuments. I was already looking forward to tommorrow, when I could get out and walk the streets and see some of these places were we speeding by in the car. Remember, one drink or two at the pub and then home to bed!

Sasha and Vladimir turned out to be really great guys. I have to confess that when we were in the restaurant I wasn't too sure about them. I suppose as a tourist, and an American one at that, I was being a bit overly cautious and suspicious of everyone around me. After all, before coming to Russia I had so many people tell me, especially Russians, to be very careful. Everyone is out to rob me, I was told.

But once we were in the car they went far out of their way to keep me in the conversation, and made great attempts to scale the language barrier. They asked me about Louis Armstrong and American jazz music; they told me of other musicians they liked and we talked about music and films.

I asked them how they liked St. Petersburg and they said it was a great city. "Lots to do," they said. "You'll be amazed at the things you will see while you are here." They already had plenty of ideas for things for me to do while in Petersburg.

Anybody know what this is? Please email me.
As we drove along, all of a sudden Sasha glanced in the rear view mirror and said to Vladimir, who was driving, "Politzia", the Russian word for police. Vladimir slowed the car down a bit, as another car passed us on our right hand side.

The car was a typical small Russian model, rather cheap and fragile looking by American standards. There were two large uniformed officers squeezed into the front of it. As we all watched them pass us, I remarked with a small degree of astonishment, "That's a police car?"

Sasha and Vladimir burst into laughter and looked at each other nodding their heads. I told them about some of the police cars driven by the highway patrol in the states, big American cars with special motors that can race you down in no time. They both agreed they feel better with the Petersburg police in their small, little Russian models.

We arrived at the pub. It was a small, dark looking place along a row of shops. There was a young man outside, taking money, with a broken arm. He didn't look happy. That old American suspicion started creeping back in as I wondered what kind of place this was. Sasha spoke to the young man a moment and then came back and said it was a pretty expensive place; he was worried about wasting our money someplace we might not like. When I asked what kind of place it was, he had trouble describing it. Well, now my curiosity was aroused and I assured him since I was on vacation it was all an adventure, Let's go on in!

The host at the Dark Corner
It was small inside, but very cool decorations. Just inside the door there was a bar directly in front and two raised areas up stairways to either side. To the right, young women danced around a pole, mostly nude, to music played by a strangely dressed man sitting behind them.

To the left, and up on the same level as the stage, were tables. We went up to the tables and sat down. The walls all around were decorated with really wild paintings, strange artwork, and odds and ends just nailed in various places, My kind of place!

Sasha and Vladimir were looking at me, trying to figure out what I thought of the place. I'm sure they thought it might be a bit too bizarre for my tastes. When I gave them a thumbs up and grinned, shooked their fists in the air and called over the waitress.

The dancing was not like your regular strip joint. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of those places, and never really go to them. But this place was very different. The guy behind the dancers made jokes, in Russian of course, the entire time they danced. He was actually more of an attraction than the girls were! The dancer would twist and gyrate to be provocative, and he would make some little comment and the audience would burst into laughter. Damn! I wish I understood Russian! But it was all in good fun, and everybody in the place was having a great time.

An old Russian motorcycle over the bar.
The host of the show also had a little act he did between dancers. He would invite members of the audience up on stage with him to tell a joke. If he knew the joke the audience member started, and could finish the rest of the story before they did, he sent them back to their seats. If the person from the audience could tell the whole joke before he figured it out, he gave them one hundred dollars.

Everyone at our table wanted me to go up on stage and start telling a joke in english, to see if I could get one hundred dollars out of him. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. That was his stage up there, and after all, I'm a stranger in this land. I knew better, so I just kept my butt on that seat and enjoyed the show.

Several people took a shot at it though, and each time he stepped in and finished the joke, sending the hopeful winner back to his seat and the audience into cheering. I was really starting to like this guy, even without being able to understand him. You could tell he was a natural performer and really liked what he was doing; especially when the women were dancing. He even joined one of them in her routine, but I won't go into that; it got a bit strange.

He also invited the men up on stage to do their own strip act. For this they got a t-shirt with the name of the pub on it. The damn things only cost about ten dollars, so I figured I'd just go ahead and pay for one and save the humiliation for later. One guy did go ahead and do it, and I can tell you it was not a pretty sight.

the ol' boy himself offers a toast!
Another little game involved two women and two men from the audience. For this one they got Galina to go up on stage. She was paired with another man from the audience in competition with another couple. Each woman was given a small piece of fruit. The object of the game was to push the fruit up through the bottom of one leg of the man's pants, all the way up across his crotch, and down the other pant leg and out the bottom.

It was a feverish and comical pace, they set. The audience roared with approval, especially when the fruit passed a more sensitive region of the mens' bodies. After about two minutes, the game was over.

Galina lost, but I think this is a good thing. I must admit, I would have been suspicious of our host if she had excelled at this sort of thing. The other girl handled the fruit, on the inside of the man's pants remember, with such sure hands and seeming experience, I think a lot of people lost respect for her.

But our Galina kept her innocence and dignity; even if she was faking it.

Okay, now you're probably wondering if I kept my promise to myself to have just one or two drinks and get straight back to bed. You've probably guessed by now I did not. No, we stayed there at the Dark Corner for quite a while, and my one or two drinks turned into several... and then many. Well, how could you leave a place this fun on a great night like this. My first night in St. Petersburg!

While we were there I also kept looking over at a very strange and kind of disturbing display inside a glass window, near the window facing outside the building. It consisted of a mannequin, wearing a gas mask behind a fence of barbed wire. There was strange lighting all around him, and a vanity plate with the Oakland Raiders on it stuck to the barbed wire. I had no idea what the creator was trying to convey, if anything, but my attention was drawn to it often during the night.

Also, behind it were what I thought were blue neon lights, in thin horizontal strips, against the window facing the outside of the building.

More of the interesting artwork on the walls of Dark Corner.
The show was still going strong when we finally decided to leave. Sasha and Vladimir bid us goodnight and we thanked them for a great time. They wished me an enjoyable stay in St. Petersburg and I told them it was off to a good start already.

When we got to the door and opened it, I got a huge surprise; it was still light out! The thin blue lights behind the strange display I had been thinking all night were neon lights were daylight! Or more technically speaking, sunlight! Welcome to St. Petersburg's wonderful (and baffling) White Nights!

We got a taxi back to Galina's apartment and I collapsed into bed, still in a daze from the whole experience. The Dark Corner was definately not where I suspected to find myself on my first night in Petersburg. And maybe you're thinking it is a pretty bizarre place to waste time in a city featuring some of the greatest architecture and most beautiful works of art anywhere in the world.

Well, I loved it. What great local flavor! The palaces and The Hermitage will all come in good time. You can't spend all your time in the museums. I had met some really good people who showed me a really fun time, and that is what this kind of trip was all about. For that reason, I remember the Dark Corner as a highlight of the trip.

And my cough and runny nose? Well, I took a couple of Excedrin PM and about five tablets of vitamin C, it was about five in the morning now, and fell fast asleep.

I woke up the next afternoon feeling great! St. Petersburg, 'Here I come!'

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All contents and photos © 1997 by Skip Evans