Ostozhenka: Taking a Walk Down Moscow’s Golden Mile
by Alex Osipovich
Take a walk down Ostozhenka, and you’ll see why people call it Moscow’s Golden Mile. The neighborhood simply oozes with prestige. Nestled amid the Art Nouveau buildings and the intimate side-streets, you can find a restaurant named “Snobs,” the city’s finest antique salon, and more elite housing than you can shake a stick at. But Ostozhenka is more than a playground for New Russians. It’s also a historic district with a treasure trove of pre-Revolutionary architecture, vibrant cultural institutions, and the homes of Russia’s artistic elite — from both yesterday and today.
Dinner With Friedrich Engels
Ironically, the gatekeeper of this affluent section of Moscow is Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx’s co-author of The Communist Manifesto. Engels’ statue stands at the beginning of Ostozhenka street, near the entrance to Kropotkinskaya metro station. When the statue was erected in the late 1970s, the Party explained that there was a self-evident reason for locating it here — geographically, this spot is halfway between the Marx monument facing the Bolshoi Theatre and the Lenin monument near Luzhniki Stadium. This way, the ideological foundations of Marxism- Leninism would be clear to anyone with a map, a ruler, and way too much time on their hands.
Today, one can reflect on Engels’ legacy over a glass of wine at Vanil, located across the street at 1 Ulitsa Ostozhenka. Vanil serves a fusion of French and Japanese cuisine, and one side of the restaurant offers an excellent view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Of course, Vanil isn’t the only option for fine dining in Ostozhenka. Snobs, at 3 Obydensky Pereulok, has more than a pretentious name — reportedly, they fly in fresh produce from France four times a week. Further down Ostozhenka one can find two of Moscow’s best Georgian restaurants. Genatsvale, at No. 12, is unmistakable thanks to its gaudy exterior and the ever-present doorman clad in traditional Caucasian garb. But true connoisseurs of Georgian food claim that Tiflis, at No. 32, is even better.
An Art Nouveau Wonderland
Under Soviet rule, Ostozhenka remained one of the best-preserved sections of Moscow. There are no towering concrete monoliths here. Instead, you’ll find numerous examples of Art Nouveau architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, along with a smattering of older buildings. Also, since Ostozhenka is one of the hottest areas for Moscow real estate, many elite housing units were built in the last ten years. Luckily, though, these structures blend in with their surroundings much more successfully than similar projects in other old parts of Moscow.
The neo-Gothic apartment building at 3 Ulitsa Ostozhenka is a striking example of turn-of-thecentury Art Nouveau. When it was completed in 1909, critics derided it as kitsch because of the grotesque stucco sculptures that populated the walls. The cupola, towering over the street, resembles an upside-down wine goblet. According to local lore this is because the man who paid for the building’s construction — a wealthy merchant named Filatov — wanted it to be a monument to his vow to quit drinking.
Not all of Ostozhenka’s landmarks are Art Nouveau. The Moscow State Linguistic University at No. 38 is a yellow neoclassical structure that dates back to the 1760s. Originally, this was the home of General Pyotr Yeropkin, who is best known for putting down the Moscow riots of 1771. The riots began during an outbreak of bubonic plague. Alarmed by the epidemic, Muscovites flocked to churches in order to kiss miracle-working icons, which they thought would be a sure-fire remedy against the gruesome disease — but the frenzy of icon-kissing had the opposite effect. As Moscow turned into a scene from a zombie movie, Empress Catherine the Great ordered the churches to be closed. This, in turn, sparked massive riots. General Yeropkin rallied his troops and put down the uprising, killing thousands of Orthodox believers in the process. Catherine rewarded him handsomely. He became the Governor- General of Moscow and left his Ostozhenka home for even fancier digs on Tverskaya Street.
During the Soviet period, the old Yeropkin place became an institute for foreign languages, and a well-known training school for future KGB agents. Its alumni have included Yevgeny Primakov, the former spymaster and Yeltsin-era prime minister, and ultra-nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Finally, no tour of Ostozhenka’s architecture would be complete without mentioning No. 21, which is now the residence of the Egyptian ambassador. This house, a neo-Gothic masterpiece which looks like it belongs in a Brothers Grimm story, was built in 1903 by the architect Lev Kekushev. But Kekushev didn’t get to enjoy it himself — he built it for his wife as part of a divorce settlement. In spite of these origins, the house is associated with one of the greatest love stories in Russian literature: the romance of the Master and Margarita.
In the 1920s, the Kekushev house was home to Yelena Shilovskaya, a woman of aristocratic descent married to a Soviet general. One day, Shilovskaya met a young writer at a party who instantly fell in love with her. That writer was Mikhail Bulgakov. Ultimately, Shilovskaya left her husband to become Bulgakov’s third wife, and Bulgakov became one the most popular Russian authors of the 20th century.
STATION OF GRAND PLANS
What we know today as the Kropotkinskaya metro station opened in 1935 as “Palace of Soviets.” It was part of the first metro line and named for the grandiose tower planned for the site of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which Stalin had recently demolished. The Palace was to be the largest building in the world and would be topped by a 100-meter statue of Lenin – that would spend most of its days lost in the clouds. But the riverside site proved unable to cope with the tower’s weight. Architects called off the project after the foundation had been dug and a giant hole stood on the site for years. Khrushchev eventually got the inspiration to fill it with water and thus was born the largest open-air swimming pool in the world. The station was renamed Kropotkinskaya in 1957, after a richly bearded 19th century revolutionary anarchist named Pyotr Kropotkin.
Considered a great architectural success, Kropotkinskaya was designed by the architect Alexei Dushkin, who also built the magnificent stations at Ploschad Revolutsii and Mayakovskaya. All three won international design awards. Kropotkinskaya, however, executed in rich, earthy tones, is the simplest and most elegant of the trio. Its cream-colored marble columns bring to mind giant plants from some underwater kingdom. Look closely, and you’ll see that the ends of the columns are carved into five-pointed Soviet stars. These columns and the walls are faced with marble taken from the demolished Cathedral.
Kropotkinskaya is a popular meeting place. At all times of day, young people gather here – perhaps to attend a concert at the House of Scientists or look through the Monets at the Pushkin Museum or dine in a fashionable cafe on nearby Gogolevsky Boulevard, Prechistenka, or Ostozhenka. You can also buy Bibles, crucifixes and orthodox jewelry in the tunnel leading to the street. By an ironic twist, the station now serves the rebuilt Cathedral of Christ of the Savior. An extra exit was added in 1997 to access the cathedral. Every day the faithful pass through the golden gates to the biggest church in Russia, the monumental temple Stalin could not destroy.
by Vernon Howell
In his cult novel “The Master and Margarita,” Bulgakov tells the story of a love affair between the two title characters: the Master, who was based on Bulgakov himself, and Margarita, based on Shilovskaya. Literary detectives have deduced that Margarita’s house was inspired by 21 Ostozhenka — the novel describes it as a charming Gothic house with a private garden (though Bulgakov changed its location to the Arbat). Here, Margarita rubs herself with a magic cream given to her by the demon Azazello, turns into a witch, and takes off for her wild flight around Moscow.
The Master also lived near Ostozhenka. At 9 Mansurovsky Pereulok, one can find a wooden, single- story house where Bulgakov’s friend Sergei Yermolinsky lived in the 1930s. Yermolinsky was a painter at the Maly Theater when he was arrested by Stalin’s secret police in 1934. He spent a year in prison, and then, miraculously, he was released. But from then on, he was a broken man. He spent two years in his tiny basement apartment, refusing to come out or to greet visitors, and only accepting food through a crack in the door. Yermolinsky’s underground refuge became the model for the Master’s apartment in “The Master and Margarita.”
Bulgakov isn’t the only writer associated with Ostozhenka. The 19th century author Ivan Turgenev was a frequent visitor to the bluish-gray wooden house at No. 37, across the street from the Linguistic University. This was the home of Turgenev’s mother, Varvara Turgeneva, a cruel and neurotic woman who mistreated her serfs and terrorized her son. When the young Turgenev left for Petersburg to continue his education, his mother ordered him to write her a letter every day. She promised that on every day when she didn’t receive a letter, she would whip all of her serfs — a promise that she kept. The terrorized, guilt-wracked Turgenev kept writing letters, day after day.
Later, he wrote a story named “Mumu” that caused a scandal in Russian society with its searing denunciation of serfdom. In the tale, a wealthy woman orders her deaf-mute serf Gerasim to drown his beloved dog, Mumu, in the Moscow River. “Mumu” was set in a house inspired by No. 37, and the sadistic, manipulative mistress of the house was inspired by the writer’s crazed mother.
This quiet sliver of central Moscow plays a surprisingly important role in cutting-edge Russian culture.
At 16 Ulitsa Ostozhenka, one can find the Moscow House of Photography, better known by its Russian initials, MDF. As the city’s only museum dedicated purely to photography, MDF hosts well- attended exhibitions that rotate every few weeks. MDF is also a groundbreaking museum in other ways. It has a comprehensive, bilingual web site at www.mdf.ru, and unlike the vast majority of Russian museums, it receives much of its funding from the private sector.
Visitors who want to buy art — and not just look at it — are advised to visit the antique salon at No. 7 Ostozhenka. This elegant store is perhaps the best place in Moscow for high-end antikvariat.
Finally, music lovers should note the Galina Vishnyevskaya Opera Center at 25 Ulitsa Ostozhenka. Named for the legendary Bolshoi Theater soprano and wife of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, this sprawling complex opened in 2002. It contains a theater, a music school for aspiring opera singers, a cafe, and elite housing. This is also where the Limelight Theatre — Moscow’s only English-language theater company — gives its sporadic performances.
Without a doubt, Ostozhenka has a slick exterior. But its rich cultural life and historic past give the neighborhood something else — a soul. And even on Moscow’s Golden Mile, that’s something that money can’t buy.
Special thanks to Patriarshy Dom Tours (Tel. 795 0927) for organizing Alex’s tour of Ostozhenka.
Points of Interest
Accenti – Innovative Italian cuisine with Japanese touches. 7 Kropotkinsky per., 246 1515.
Antique Salons on Ostozhenka – A gorgeous antique shop – perhaps Moscow’s best. 7 Ostozhenka, 291 8946.
Carpaccio – Innovative Mediterranean restaurant with inventive interior, award-winning wine cellar, and a confectionary. Pricey. 42 Ostozhenka, 246 6107.
Chaika Pool - The 25-meter and 50-meter open-air pools are the big attractions here, but it is also a full fitness club plus a mini-golf course, five tennis courts, beauty salon, and a restaurant. 1/3 Turchaninov Pereulok, 246 1344.
The Corner – Sophisticated dining. International menu with Thai and German accents. Wi-Fi-enabled. 42 Ostozhenka, 246 0433.
Dr. Loder - Full fitness club with aerobics – Full fitness club with aerobics classes, weights, and stuff for the kids. 25 Ostozhenka, 201 4076.
Genatsvale – Classic Georgian food at reasonable prices to go with terrific Georgian wine. 12/1 Ostozhenka, 202 0445.
Hokku – A friendly new Japanese restaurant. 15% discount weekdays 12-4pm. 40/1 Ostozhenka, 725 4302.
Linvoseges – Gorgeous French linen shop. 20 Ostozhenka, 203 6278.
Moscow House of Photography – A splendid photo museum with regularly updated local and international exhibits. Bi-lingual website at www.mdf.ru. 18 Ostozhenka, 231 3325.
Pechka - European, Georgian, and Japanese cuisines. One of the best business lunches in town. Swings for bar stools. 26 Ostozhenka, 203 2838.
Snobs – Try mushroom cappuccino soup and braised pig’s head here by two-Michelin star chef Richard Neat before he ditches Moscow and moves back to Morocco. 3 1st Obydensky per., 775 2310.
Tiflis - If you’re on an expense account, try the balcony at this fine Georgian restaurant. Tiflis owns vineyards in Georgia that produce wine exclusively for the Moscow restaurant. A 31-room four-star hotel with the same name and management is adjacent to the restaurant. 32 Ostozhenka, 290 2897. Hotel Tiflis, 733 9070.
Vanil – One of Moscow’s most famous upscale eateries. Reserve a table with a view of the Cathedral. Also a good place for celebrity- watching. 1 Ostozhenka, 291 4417.
Vertinsky – Mostly Chinese food, but some Thai and non-Chinese seafood dishes. Like Snobs, this restaurant is a project of Moscow cultural legacy Stepan Mikhalkov. 3/14 Ostozhenka, 202 0570.