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St. Petersburg and alcohol. From Dostoyevsky’s Sennaya to the modern-day Rubinshteina Street.


Yuriy Sherbakov, reporter: ”Sennaya Square. The genuine belly of St. Petersburg. The place which is unconquerable by time. Which has its proof in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and punishment” novel. Let’s go through the great book’s pages”.


St. Petersburg is not merely “the location”, but probably the novel’s main character. The most “fictional” and the most “fantastic” city on Earth. The author’s images are in plain sight.

“The intolerable stench emanating from drinking spots, which this part of the city has in abundance, and the drunk - in every step of the way, despite it was still light of day - completed the depressing and disgusting scenery”.

“He walked down the sidewalk like a drunk, not noticing the passers-by and came to sense only in the next street”.

“Having turned around, he noticed that he stood next to a drinking establishment, with an entrance leading down into the basement. Two drunks were walking out the door. Holding one another and swearing at each other, they were making their way up. Without hesitation, Raskolnikov walked down”.

“There are meetings of a different kind - with people we don’t know, yet we find them interesting from the first look. Suddenly, before even uttering a word”.

A smart-looking woman sat at a distance from everyone else, being busy with a crossword puzzle and not paying any attention to what was going on elsewhere in the room. Almost as if she was the only person here.

Chin-Chin, Svetochka! Cmon! I always have your back! Im as sober as a cucumber.

The “chin-chin” was initiated by a middle-aged man in an unzipped jacket with a Bob Marley t-shirt smiling from underneath it. “Whats your name?” - asked the bar’s regular guest.

Im Yura. What’s yours?
I am Arkadiy. Arkasha!
And you must be Svetlana?
Look at the lightbulb - and you won’t forget.

Before retiring, Svetlana worked as an electronic engineer - assembled chips for submarine control systems. If it wasn’t for her disability, she would’ve continued working. This is her refuge from loneliness. Her husband - a sailor - passed away. No one to wait for at home.

I’m at the office all day. If they come here before me, the bartender opens the doors and says: “you get reprimanded for being late”. But I’m not on the books, get it? I’m not getting paid”.

The glass is half bitter liquor, half apple juice. And this woman could sip on this cocktail for the whole day. Just like most of the people here, she’s not here to get dead drunk. 

People gather here during the day to talk, nobody gets in the way of one another. We share experiences of the past day and night. People simply talk to each other.

Back in the 1960s, young writer Valeriy Popov spent his first paycheck here. Forty rubles he earned for a short story published in the “Iskorka” magazine was enough to take a company of friends out.

what could you buy with 40 rubles back in the 60s?

Valeriy Popov,chairman of St. Petersburg’s Union of Writers:
“Well, we ordered champagne, a bottle of vodka, two bottles of dry wine. Definitely some fish to go with it. And pastrami as a hot appetizer”.

The free spirit and totalitarian price fix enabled a party to celebrate the first paycheck with two friends and four models from “House of Fashion”. But they drank only for giggles.

Valeriy Popov, chairman of St. Petersburg’s Union of Writers: “No one drank too much here. I don’t remember anyone dropping drunk here. We had the feeling of excitement and joy. Sometimes everyone danced together. Hugged and danced”

It was not in the habit - to get drunk and indulge in indecent behaviour. Writers, actors, scientists around. The kind of environment and atmosphere where you wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself.

Vladimir Rekshan,founder of “Sankt-Peterburg” rock band:
“Here’s how guests were received in Chelyabinsk. That’s after the concert. Wasted drunk”.

A whole plane of musicians - beside Vladimir Rekshan and his “Sankt-Peterburg” band - came to the concert in Chelyabinsk. Best performers of the era - “Nautilus Pompilius”, “Alisa”, “Zoopark”.

Vladimir Rekshan, founder of “Sankt-Peterburg” rock band: “Locals always want to get their guests drunk. They wanted a warm reception, but eventually Mike spent three days in the backstage, passed out, while the crowd was chanting his name. When we lifted him up and showed him to the people, they went - Hooray! I still don’t get what was all that for”.

They mostly drank porter wine. Not exclusively though. And not everyone. Vladimir hasn’t had a single drop of alcohol for the last 25 years.

Vladimir Rekshan,founder of “Sankt-Peterburg” rock band:
“When you’re young, you have no drinking culture. You only have a habit of drinking a bit, then it turns into an addiction, and then becomes genuine alcoholism. So what drinking culture are you talking about?”.

In the days of the turbulent youth, alcohol served more as an “emotional medicine”. Calming nerves before walking onto the stage or, to the contrary, liven up after a concert is done. 

Today we are experiencing the rise of the drinking culture, according to Artem Balaev. People want to know what’s in their glass, says the designer and owner of trendy gastronomic and fashion projects. But people go to bars and restaurants not only for drinks.

Artem Balaev: 
“In reality, communication is St. Petersburg’s currency. It’s important to understand. When we’re looking at successful projects, those are projects connected to communication”.

The World’s Top50 bar list has one from St. Petersburg. None from Moscow or even Eastern Europe.

What did people like about it?
Here’s this bar. It only has one table. Big table, where people sit together and communicate. The staff and bartenders are good communicators too - this is the recipe of their success”.

St. Petersburg is the winner of several tourism Oscars. History, culture, architecture. But the so-called alco-trips have become popular of late.

Artem Balaev: 
“I recently learnt that Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovskiy - director if the State Hermitage - walks into every hall of the Museum before the New Year’s and congratulates all employees. It looks a lot like the tradition we have seen emerging here lately - when tourists come to Rubinshteina Street and try to walk its entire length, visiting as many bars as possible”.

What’s the point of it?
I don’t know, maybe an express method of getting acquainted with St. Petersburg’s culture.

The city’s main gastronomic street has more than 50 establishments. So if you spend at least an hour in each of those, you would need more than two days. And that’s just one street.

Yuriy Sherbakov, reporter: ”This year, St. Petersburg did not make the top-10 of Russia’s most drinking cities list. Although it has never tried to be the leader in that race. So if you are drinking in St. Petersburg, it’s not about the quantity, but about the quality. And in that aspect our city is the best, without doubts!”