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From Moscow with Love

by Vincent van der Kraan in Nightlife & Reports , 31 augustus 2003

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Thursday June 13, the day we arrived in Moscow, happened to be the celebration of the twelft anniversary of the new Russian federation. Thousands of tourists and natives were roaming the twelve traffic lanes of the enormous wide Twersky Boulevard to join the massive festivities on the Red Square. The elite gay clubs and saunas, open almost all day and night, can only be afforded by tourists and well-to-do Moscovians. The cheaper clubs are crowded by a mix of straights and gays, all garbed in unisex gear. Cruising spots are peopled by young guys in search of (paid) sex. For a town of ten million, two gay discos, five gay bars and four gay saunas can hardly be called a luxury.

Disco Chance

The oldest and biggest disco is in a suburb of Moscow and certainly worth the trip. A beer crosses the counter for 100 Rbl (E 2,86) and a softdrink for 80 Rbl (E 2,29). It’s crowded in weekends and popular also amongst straights. Disco Chance is a long building complex with tall windows bathing in blue lights. It’s a huge elongated disco with high ceilings and a balcony in the round, plus several smaller bars, a pool area and a darkroom, which is merely a stairwell with the lights switched off. On the stage dancers and strippers are performing, though Moscow strippers will never go all the way.
Disco 3 Obeziani

photo: Vincent en Vasya

The only other gay disco in Moscow is on the other side of town. The name means the three monkeys: Hearing, Seeing, Keeping Silent. It’s located right next to some military barracks and you’ll find quite a number of soldiers here wandering around outside, waiting to be picked up for money. Plus several street wise guys in military drag posing as soldiers. The entrance fee after midnight is 150 Rbl (E 4,30) and also here I had to pay 300 Rbl (E 8,60) for my female friend. The night we were there, they’d erected a boxing stage on the square dance floor. Every quarter another couple starts wrestling with the sole aim of ripping each other’s clothes off as soon as possible. Shreds were soon flying around and sometimes the fighters came tumbling off stage onto the dance floor to finish off their romp, causing great hilarity amongst the crowd. In another room you’ll find a lounge where you can order a wide selection of savoury dishes.

Sauna Thermas

You have to look hard to find the entrance to Sauna Thermas. Luckily I spotted two young guys willing to help me. Once inside one of them jumped me right away, asking me if I wanted a massage or something, but I explained I’m here on business, writing an article for Gay News. Immediately things are back to normal and we can talk. Oleg is his name and he points out a number of gentlemen to me, members of the Doema (Parliament). Also in this tiny little excuse for a sauna we happen to run into both the owners of disco Chance and the 3 Obeziani.

photo: Barkeeper Vasya

I’m also introduced to the owner of Central-Station, once the best discos in town, which was demolished. Pasja (Pavel) Khlebnikov is his name and he tells me how Central-Station, which opened on September 5, 2002, was completely destroyed by the militia on October 17 of the same year. He ran the business for only a little over one month, but in that time the place had become a household name all over Russia. People turned up in droves each night, queueing up in long lines at the door, even coming from Petersburg to look at his formula. Limousines kept pulling up and the most famous artists in Russia were performing there. The mayor has let him know he won’t get a license to open another business in the same place and Pasja is now planning an even bigger disco in the center of town.

photo: Hotel Ukraina

Bar Baza

This is the most charming gay disco in Moscow. Regular boys and girls in a fifties atmosphere. Behind Bar Baza’s closed doors they can finally be themselves. Boys’ and girls’ couples involved in heavy necking and slow dancing to the mellow tunes of a performing drag queen. Pasja pushed a Gay News issue in the hands of non-suspecting customers to have their picture with me taken.

A darling old lady attending the lavatories called Babushka (Granny) was immortalized together with the DJ. The occasional Russian songs being played inspired the entire crowd to sing along. I’m not particularly given to being sentimental, but this joint brings out the best in people. What a charming affair!

Sauna Voda

The next day I took off for the Moskva river, where, right opposite a gas factory with two enormous pipes, uphill in a little street on #12 is located Sauna Voda. A clean and spacious sauna, with enough room to welcome some two hundred visitors. The three times I was there it was crowded, also with lots of pretty boys. You can eat here as well, as almost everywhere else we’d been thus far. Moscow saunas don’t come with cabins, so all the action takes place either in the steamroom, the labyrinth or on the toilet.

photo: Pasja en DJ Sergey

I met Sasho who took me disco Propaganda. Since the queue in front of the door was a long one, he invited me to come home with him straightaway. Not "just outside Moscow", as he put it, a mere 24 hour ride by train in the Urals, but to where he stayed with his brother in one of the suburbs. A weird atmosphere, those barracks with their heavy steelplated doors, having to key in a code to enter the building. Sasho explained this code is changed weekly, so when you plan a long holiday, you’re in trouble.

Cruising Park Kitai Gorod

The best known cruising park is near Metro Kitai Gorod. In the park you’ll find a statue of Cyrril en Methodus, the two Bulgarian monks who developed the cyrillian alphabet in the fourth century. On the other side of the park next to the metro entrance is a small chapel in commemoration of the Plevnav heroes. Here cruising goes on day and night. But beware of the constantly patrolling police officers, handing out fines to all those without identity papers.

They don’t really care about the cruising going on right under their nose, but earning an extra buck catching natives and tourists without identity papers is what they’re really keen on. The fine varies according to the state of your dress but is negotiable, disappearing, without receipt, in the officers’ pockets. A camera makes all the action going on vanish instantly, so I had to hide mine while shooting some pictures of cruising boys and men.

Moscow gay life still has a long way to go. But the beautiful macho guys are worth the trip and they’re easy to make contact with. So it’s fair to say, from Moscow with love!

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In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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