GlavPivTorg — a window onto history

<< 2012-02-19 18:17 >>

The main hall

GlavPivTorg is not just a brewpub. It is also a theme restaurant. The name is a Soviet-style acronym meaning "Main Beer Cooperative," and the place is designed to look like an elite Soviet restaurant from the 1960s. This is the sort of place where the high-level Soviet apparatchik would dine. Even the menu is designed according to the state cookery manual for restaurants.

The location is also well-chosen. This was formerly the Soviet Foreign Ministry, and the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 was signed on the ground floor here. That's already plenty historical, but there are some far more sinister associations, to which we'll return below.

The overall impression of the restaurant is a vaguely office-like or library-like look, with yellowish wood, deep green carpets, big bookshelves, and the chiffon curtains that seem to be obligatory in Soviet-era restaurants. There's also some modern art that apes traditional Soviet propaganda art, busts of Lenin, some Soviet-era maps on the walls, and even a desk with ancient telephones and other office equipment from bygone days.

The beer

The beer, surprisingly, is very much in the Czech tradition, and is even served in Czech-style mugs. The Stolovoye (Table) was a fairly straightforward Svetly Lezak (Bohemian pilsner), nice, drinkable, and a good notch above your average industrial pale lager. The Temnoye Barkhatnoye (Dark Velvet) was again Czech-style, but this time a Tmavy (dunkel). Full, roasty caramelly taste with some burnt licorice and a good bit less hops than the Stolovoye. Something was wrong with the Krasnoye Karamelnoye (Red Caramel), probably the tap lines, so we'll pass over that.

The star of the show, however, was the Nefiltrovannoye (unfiltered), a pale lager. The taste was mainly grainy fruity honey with notes of dry straw, spice, and resin. There's a buttery background, and a faint slickness to the mouthfeel. It's smooth and pleasant, yet full-flavoured and complex, the sort of beer I could happily drink by the bucket.

I see this again and again: the unfiltered, fresh lagers are the best lagers. They are generally only available close to the source, which means one doesn't see them very often. It really is a shame, as these beers are often magnificent.

When we visited we were met at the door by a waitress, who led us past a playroom for kids, where a woman dressed as a clown was happily engaged in a pillow fight with a little boy, up a staircase, and to a table by the windows. It was a pleasant, quiet spot in the restaurant, with deep leather armchairs, and a great view of Lubyanka Square. There we were served excellent pelmenni (Russian dumplings) and hot soup, a perfect antidote to the bone-chilling Siberian cold outside the windows.

Through which window, by the way, we can see the famous toy store Children's World, built during the Soviet era, and once the biggest toy store in Europe. It's an odd location for a toy store, as right across the square is what Muscovites used to refer to as Adult's World, the prison that also served as the headquarters of the KGB (and the NKVD before it). It was the gateway through which many tens of thousands were led to torture, execution, or a decade of slow suffering in the Gulag.

So there I sat, in my leather armchair, sipping excellent Czech-style beer, and reading Solzhenitsyn's account of the soul-crushing experience it was to arrive into the Lubyanka as a prisoner.

Former KGB headquarters

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