Until recently it was a dilapidated Soviet-era amusement park, but a multi-million dollar makeover has allowed Gorky Park to regain its place as a jewel in Moscow’s crown once more. Where once there was a three-rouble ban for sitting on the grass, today the lawns are strewn with beanbags and deck chairs for promenading passers-by to rest their feet. “The park used to be a destination for drunken debauchery, a place where people drank beer, listened to old Soviet chansons, and ate shwarma,” says Gorky Park Director Olga Zakharova. Now, it’s a prime hangout for Muscovites. With numerous restaurants to choose from as well as entertainment centres geared towards various sporting and cultural activities, Gorky Park is in many ways less a park in the traditional sense of the word and more a recreation ground for both young and old alike. “The Gorky Park project has a whole different mentality than average European parks,” says Zakharova.
To help you find your way around, The Calvert Journal brings you the top ten spots to eat, drink and skate in Gorky Park this summer.
When restaurant-cum-vintage store Oldich Dress & Drink announced it would be closing its downtown digs, Moscow’s fashionable set emitted a collective sigh of grief. Luckily for them, the owners have opened Garden, a temporary restaurant in Gorky Park until they find a new permanent location. Situated on an embankment of the Moscow River, the restaurant is shady but not secluded, with flowers and grape vines wrapped around the white pebble terrace, which is decked out with vintage tables and stools. Oldich chef Fedor Tardatyan has transferred to Garden but the vintage clothes shop that was a staple of the original Oldich is on hiatus until a new spot is found. “We haven’t lost our customers,” says manager Natalia Pushkovich. “We thought we would but everyone who came to our restaurant before still comes to us.”
Address: Krimsky Val, 9, c 21, Gorky Park
Phone: +7 (499) 951 79 93
The last few years have seen a rise in city beaches and Moscow is no different. Sun-worshippers should head straight to the white sand beach, which can now be found in a remote corner near the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. “Last year it was in the very middle of the park,” says Mari Chichagova, deputy PR director at Gorky Park. “It wasn’t very comfortable for people so we moved it to a more secluded area.” As a result, the newly tucked away nook doesn’t get any passing traffic which means you’re likely to have the whole beach to yourself.
Address: Located to the south of the Green School
An indisputable highlight of Gorky Park, Garage’s reputation has gone from strength to strength not least because of the celebrity of its founder, the art collector and socialite Dasha Zhukova. Garage, which recently changed its remit from a cultural centre to a museum of contemporary art, is due to undergo a $27m makeover overseen by none other than Dutch starchitect Rem Koolhaas. Completion is scheduled for 2015 so there’s not long left to catch the museum’s spectacular cardboard pavilion designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. “It’s not just a building, but rather a process, a space for ideas, thoughts, movement,” says Zhukova. The museum’s cafe also offers excellent European fare on its terrace, one of the best in Moscow.
Address: Krimsky Val 9, near Pioneer Pond
Phone: +7 (495) 645 05 20
Regardless of whether you prefer your tennis on a table or on a court, you’ll be well catered for at Neskutchny Garden, which has facilities for both. The Ping Pong Club — described by manager Maksim Pankin as “a friendship collective” — has more than 40 tables in Gorky Park, pleasantly positioned beneath a bower of willow trees. Attached to the club is popular eatery ButerBro, famed for its hearty sandwiches such as turkey with marinated onions and turnips on homemade bread. A little further up the hill are two clay tennis courts that share a clubhouse with Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian cafe chain that has recently expanded into Russia. You’ll need to book ahead for both ping pong and tennis.
Address: Leninsky Prospect, dom. 18
Phone: Ping Pong: +7 (495) 649 04 71, Tennis Club: +7 (499) 237 12 66
For a little taste of Paris in Moscow, head to La Boule, a petanque cafe in the heart of Gorky Park. Although the cafe is based on the concept of French guinguettes — homely drinking spots in the Parisian suburbs where friends and family gather to eat, drink and dance — the food is a mix of North African and Middle Eastern with staples such as couscous and houmous sourced from popular Jewish deli The Hummus. But that’s not all. Francophiles can get their fill of French culture with language lessons during the day. Despite being popular among the young, hip crowd, the next step is for La Boule to try and draw in other demographics, says co-owner Dasha Zorich. “Social barriers really disturb me,” says Zorich. “The city needs a place where creative and talented people can mix.”
Address: 9 Krimsky Val
Phone: +7 (926) 376 93 66
The Green School
Gorky Park provides a haven amid the chaos of Moscow, especially for parents who can drop their kids off at The Green School while they explore the rest of the grounds. Children aged between four and 12 can sign up for workshops that teach a range of practical skills from planting tomatoes to carving wooden figurines and baking cakes. “As well as normal children’s activities like drawing we also have rabbits, snails, beetles and spiders,” says Zakharova.
Address: Krimsky Val 9, c4
Phone: +7 (903) 719 14 84
A bustling family restaurant by day, Swan Lake, one of the oldest restaurants in Gorky Park, transforms into a pumping club by night with DJs flown in from around the world. The restaurant is one of the best in the park for cocktails, including Pimms — a rare find in Moscow. The menu is varied, comprising Thai and European classics but it’s their desserts that have sweet-toothed Muscovites queuing up. “After Swan Lake, it’s very difficult to go somewhere else,” says manager Olga Chichina. “Swan Lake is not just an establishment, it’s a way of relaxation.” Though the restaurant has a generally relaxed vibe, the Russian practice of feiscontrol (“face control”) is exercised on Friday and Saturday nights so make sure you look the part, or have some good contacts, if you want to get in.
Address: Krymsky Val 9, str 22
Phone: +7 (495) 782 58 13
Vans and Puma Social Clubs
With their state-of-the-art skate parks, including ramps, rails, boxes and half-pipes, it’s no surprise that the two social clubs supported by Vans and Puma are the chosen hangout for a dedicated crowd of skaters. “When I was in kindergarten I saw a video on television, and ever since then I’ve skated,” says one. If you’re not into skating fear not: the clubs are still a great place to hang out and they also host regular events like concerts and film screenings.
Since opening in 2013, Georgian restaurant Spices and Joy has fast become the place to see and be seen. Its location on Gorky Park’s highest topographical point not only affords great views but also makes it the best place to access wifi. Housed in a newly renovated historic mansion where the post-World War II restaurant Caucasus once stood, this Ginza Project eatery doesn’t disappoint. The spacious modern interior includes divans with plush cushions and free-floating shelves on wooden walls while the terrace is encircled by poplar and maple trees. “We have different types of guests,” says manager Nicole Naumkina. “Families with children who make use of our playground, couples who come for the cozy interior as well as skaters.”
Its high prices mean that dining at Spices and Joy is an exclusive experience and, unlike other restaurants in Gorky Park, the focus is less on churning through customers and more on providing first-rate service. Chef Izo Dzandzavy has succeeded in keeping the spirit of the old Caucasian kitchen alive with Georgian classics from khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) to chakhokhbili (chicken stew). Those with lighter wallets can opt for a beverage from the daytime drinks cart that serves lemonade, smoothies and cocktails.
Address: Krimsky Val 9, overlooks Golitsynsky Pond, next to the Paddle Boat ticket booth
Phone: +7 (968) 628 35 35
Don’t make the mistake of thinking, like most Muscovites, that Gorky Park only covers the stretch of land between Park Kultury and Oktyabrskaya. Neskuchny Garden, to the south, offers the perfect alternative to the more crowded promenades of Gorky Park. Once home to noble families, the park is dotted with sprawling, 17th-century, Italian-inspired estates. In November 2013, Gorky Park expanded to include Sparrow Hills, making it one of the biggest parks in the world. Climb to the top for some of the best views across Moscow. Olga Zahkarova is a big fan: “I love Neskuchny garden. First of all, it’s very quiet and secondly, there are loads of squirrels, and you can feed them nuts from your hand.”
Address: Accessible by Shabolovskaya, Fruzenskaya, or Vorobyovy Gory metro stations