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ST. PETERSBURG: NAKED BY NIGHT

 

By  Colin Graham

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA, 28 OCTOBER 2005 —Partying Petersburgers like to get naked. In fact, you can see them disrobing in public just about anywhere during a night out.  Those who strip—often failed ballet dancers—may be professionals, or just drunken enthusiasts. But from glitzy rip-off joints to gritty dive bars, they get up on the closest perch at hand, and wiggle it about as nature intended.  Add lights, thumping music and another funked-up body (taut or not, opposite sex or not), and the average exhibitionist, ten-a-penny in these parts, will entwine with a stranger in an ad hoc fleshy coalition of the willing.

Of course, Petersburg clubs open and shut like doors, and only a handful have survivied since the nineties when hedonism kicked off in Russia. Those venues that promote ribald displays of naked bodies tend to be more vulnerable to natural selection than others, probably because they lose novelty value very quickly; after all, there's always some rival nearby ready to be just a little bit naughtier.

Rossis, however, on ul Zodchevo Rossi 1/3, has held on, and is in rude health at the moment. The club operates out of a red brick basement which looks and feels like a cellar jam-packed with pie-eyed clubbers. It can get very hot and sweaty down there (which of course motivates people to take their clothes off); and the management loosens up its punters in the no nonsense, militantly vulgar style that the Russians have made their own. Women pay a cursory amount (around US $3), and may drink, on the house, as much champagne as they can handle.

This typical result was witnessed a couple of hours into one recent Thursday night: One of the club's male strippers, poised to climb out of his tuxedo to the sounds of some lazy soul/jazz, decides, a minute or two into his routine, that he needs a companion up there with him.  Within seconds, an inebriated young woman has joined him on the podium and, with no coy giggles or blushes, peels away her party gear with relish. He looks rather wooden by comparison—after all, he's on duty, but she's enjoying a night out. An impromptu striptease and simulated sex is as good a way of doing this as any other, at least in St Petersburg.

As with most places in the city which include stripping as part of their repertoire, Rossis' music errs on the conservative. That's just one of the many ironies that abound in Russia. To enjoy yourself in a place like this, learn to suspend disdain for manufactured pop. There's no room for musical or political correctness when you're out celebrating in St Petersburg. (Rossis does go in for security, however, big time. To gain entrance you have to negotiate your way past a burly bouncer and a metal detector. It's more like entering the departure lounge of an international airport than a club, but with the world the way it is today, you go along with it.)

To come by more cutting-edge sounds you'll have to head to somewhere like Dacha. In Russian, 'Dacha' means holiday home, the cottages the Russians escape to during the summer. In Petersburg 'Dacha' is Hamburg in microcosm—as claustrophobic and as intensely sexy as any dive in that northern German city, but raunchier. When people get up close in this town they grind.  The chat-up line is almost redundant in this place because the sensual comes first. There's hardly any space, so you might as well blend in hornily with the throng. And if you need to talk, there's the pavement outside where the chin-waggers retreat, leaving the bum-wigglers to their fun and games inside.

For genuinely unpretentious frolics and talk, and music trendy enough to rival Dacha, head for Griboyedov. Some think Griboyedov dingy because of its understated decor and subterranean location-- housed in a former nuclear bomb shelter. Others, more discerning, view it as just about the friendliest and most intimate place they've ever set foot in. The bar and dance floor are separate, so conversation can flow without being pummeled by a bass drum, and frenzied moves can be unleashed to the music, without fear of whacking someone's drink out of their hands. Relationships and flings  are forged via the simplest routes: vodka shots, peals of laughter and whirling around on the dancefloor. Griboyedov has banished the synthetic and insists that you shed your emotional armor before crossing the threshold. It's back to basics: time-honored hedonism. This is where you finally feel welcome in Russia.

A British  journalist based in Warsaw, Colin Graham writes on culture in Central and Eastern Europe. 



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