Note: The new Russian law, signed by President Vladimir Putin on June 30, 2013 continues to cause concern, both for Russians, and now for foreign tourists and Olympic athletes who could be subjected to the same "gay propaganda" fines and sentences as local residents. The new legislation seems designed to keep Russian gays firmly in the closet for years to come. See this Huffington Post article, and other news sources as the situation develops, including boycotts of Russian Vodka at many gay bars elsewhere in the world, and calls for people to avoid the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, in response to the repression. The English language pages of LGBTnet.ru, Gay.ru, Queer Russia and the Moscow Times can also provide updates. The article below was written before these most recent events.
“The night belongs to the gay men of Moscow,” said a gay resident of Russia’s capital city. “It’s the only time we live our desires freely. Nobody can take that away.”
He’s referring to Moscow’s small but thriving group of gay bars. Some are familiar to just about everyone in the city, while other remain underground. And all of them are packed with men who need to blow off some steam — on the dance floor and otherwise.
Russian society has changed drastically this past decade. Moscow has one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in the world, along with brand new shopping malls, expensive boutiques, and fancy restaurants. All this happened too quickly for some segments of society, and while Europe continues to break barriers in terms of gay civil rights, Russia has yet to extend some of the most basic protections to its gay citizens. So, while same-sex activity was decriminalized in 1993, the country's continued homophobia is no secret. Moscow's Gay Pride parade has been banned repeatedly, and gay rights protests are met with violence from the police.
The seventh attempt to hold a gay pride parade was again blocked in 2012, and Moscow's top court upheld a ban on gay pride marches in the Russian capital for the next 100 years. The Russian gay rights campaigner, Nikolay Alexeyev, had hoped to overturn the city council's ban. The Moscow City Court refused in December to review that decision, defying a ruling of the European Convention of Human Rights. This came even as five skinhead youths had burst into one gay club in October to beat up people inside. In an incident soon after, two foreign vistors were attacked in the street for appearing to be gay. Police arrested protesters in January 2013 who objected to new Federal legislation to control "gay propaganda" -- following the enactment of similar local laws in St Petersburg. The ECHR has not yet responded in any meaningful way.
Meanwhile, pockets of acceptance exist and even flourish in the former communist empire, at least in the capital and St Petersburg. Life goes in the bars much as always, although with fewer gay establishments in St Petersburg than in the recent past. As Gay.ru puts it, "with unmistakable Russian panache" they're making the best of it. The Russian/English website, (Gayly.ru is another, in Russian) provides an amazing window into this complex, culturally rich, and intensely proud society, that any reader of Pushkin, Tostoy, Dostoyevsky or Checkhov might well recognize.
So never mind the "face control" and steep prices of the ritzy clubs. In cheaper gay discos, overflowing with gay and straight, mostly young unisex crowds; in the coffeehouse scene of artists, poets and musicians; in cruising areas called 'pleshkas' or in the hot steam of saunas you'll find surprising energy in what Gay.ru calls this "city of genuine and sincere souls."
International flights arrive at Sheremetyevo International Airport, 18 miles northwest of the center. Aeroexpress rail service from the airport to Belorussky Station in Moscow city center takes just 35 minutes, for about $10. Some hotels will get you directly from the airport to their doorstep. Aeroflot and most major European and North American carriers operate flights from large European cities, as well as from Canada and the USA.
Low cost airlines often come in at either Moscow-Vnukovo or Domodedovo to the south. The Spanish airline Vueling, and Berlin-based German Wings are among those with the lowest airfares from West Europe. Aeroexpress high-speed rail links connect each airport to downtown Moscow. From Vnukovo arrive at Kievsky Station; from Domodedovo go to Paveletsky Station.
Moscow’s Metro is one of the best in the world, so don’t be afraid to use it when you’re investigating the city. Purchase a magnetic card that's good for any number of trips and insert it into the slot at the entrance. On the surface, buses, trams, and trolleys all use the same type of ticket, which you can buy at marked kiosks. The Metro closes between 1-5:30am, but many clubs stay open until around 6 or 7am - with after hours until 11am or noon.
Media & Resources
Queer Russia is has LGBTQ news and views, bringing together Russian and foreign LGBTQ activists, bloggers, journalists and citizens with queer issues in Russia, queer activism, and public events.
Another good site, Gayly.ru, is in Russian only, but their links lead to English-language resources.
Gay Radio Moscow has online program streams and website links.
The Moscow Times, is a free English-language paper with information about the constantly changing club and restaurant scene, local news, and lots of useful advice on getting around.
Website Expat.ru has a "survival guide" to Moscow in English, plus restaurant reviews and cultural events listings, including 57 area museums, 67 art galleries, and 86 concert/performace halls; plus embassy contact info for over 20 countries. Moscow.ru is another useful site, in six languages.
Many websites are Russian-only, but some are in English, especially those of hotels and restaurants. See url links at our maps and listings tab above. Moscow hotels with multi-lingual staff may be helpful with language difficulties, and they'll point you in the right direction.
GUYS² - or Guys Squared, are two English-speaking private gay guides in Moscow, with tours and build-your-own options. Gay.ru lists other such guides to show you the sights, and introduce you around, according to your tastes, for around $20 per hour (at the time this is written).
For map locations and website links to the businesses below, and more, see our gay Moscow listings pages.
Currency and Money
The ruble has been Russia’s currency for more than 500 years. There are ATMs around the center of the city, but they aren’t as common as elsewhere so you might want to keep a bit of cash on hand in case of emergency. Most larger hotels have currency exchange offices.
The Russian love of theater, opera, ballet and concerts spans all segments of society. Along with literature and poetry, people of all educational levels and occupations know a great deal about world history, geography and the arts. We list over 30 cultural attractions on our map, but there are literally hundreds more --consult local websites listed above, under the Media & Resources header.
The Bolshoi (Teatralnaya pl 1, City Center; Metro: Teatralnaya) fine opera all year, best ballet from September when the world-touring stars return.
The Moscow State Circus is comprised of two separate branches: the Bolshoi Circus, or Great Moscow Circus (prospekt Vernadskovo 7; Metro Universitet), with classic Russian style, known for clowns and animal acts; and the Circus Nikulin (Tsvetnoy bulvar 13; Metro Tsvetnoy Bulvar), the "old circus," with acrobats, trapeze artists, jugglers, tightrope walkers, and performing animals. The Bolshoi website is Russian-only; see Circopedia.org for English-language notes.
St. Basil's Cathedral (Krasnaya Ploshchad -Red Square; Metro Ploshchad Revolutsii) commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the victory over the Golden Horde; the onion domes of spiraling colors are still the most distinctive icon of all Russia.
The Pushkin Fine Arts Museum (ulitsa Volkhonka 12, Kropotkinskaya; Metro Kropolkinskaya), six building of galleries, exhibits include the Troy Gold, top works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Dufrenoy and Matisse, plus the December Evenings of classics, among the music festivals here. Find info on this and other Moscow sites at Russian Museums.
Clubs in Moscow come and go frequently, often leaving websites up. It's difficult for outsiders to know what's open. Even locals like Gay.ru can't keep up. Clubs below have recent confirmations, or current events listings, to be found in our maps & listings page, with website links. Non-Russian speakers will need a website translator --Google does okay. Keep in mind that the wearing of sports footwear might prompt doormen to deny entrance to the more fashionable clubs or restaurants. "Face control" at the door might exclude others for some special or exclusive club events.
7Freedays (Milyutinskiy pereulok 6/1: Metro Lubyanka), cozy gay-lesbian cafe/bar, open 6pm until the last customer leaves, karaoke, movies, games, Q-tango, women's events, Moscow Bears' socials Sundays from 7pm, free WiFi. The former Baza.
12 Volt Club (ulitsa Tverskaya 12, building 4; Metro Tverskaya) lesbian-owned, straight-friendly cafe/bar, DJ music, food, pleasant vibe.
Central Station MSK (Yuzhniy prospect; Metro Komsomolskaya), old Three Monkeys at new venue, hot go-go dancers, foam parties, karaoke, drag cabaret shows, restaurant, guys under 23 get in free.
Chuba Bar (Stoleshnikov pereulok 7: Metro Pushkinskaya), friendly gay dance club, weekend afterhours 6am-6pm, top DJs.
Club 69 (ulitsa Rozanova 4; Metro Begovaya) six rooms, video lounge, dance floor; mixed crowd, theme parties, women's nights, drag, amateur strip-tease; European and Japenese food, WiFi. Nightly until 6am, weekend after-parties from 6am.
Digits (Glinischevskiy Pereulok 3; Metro Tverskaya), weekday downtown bar/cafe, weekend pop music dance club, 5pm-6am, mixed young crowd, sexy shows in later hours, foam parties, theme nights. Aka the 9.1.1. Club.
Nashe Cafe (Tverskaya 25/9; Metro: Tverskaya), energetic dance crowd dances until dawn, drag shows, chill-out lounge for quieter moments. Women's bar Dyke Cafe also at this location with lounge, dancing and go-go girls.
Pink Panther (Novaya Basmannaya ulitsa, 12/2; Metro Krasnye Vorota), aka Beat Club, upscale women-only nightclub of many years-running, new name and location.
Propaganda (Bolshoi Zlatoustinskiy 7; Metro Kitay Gorod), mixed intimate lounge, small sunken dance floor, adjoining chill-out spaces; cosmopolitan, fashion-conscious mix of Russians, expats and tourists; 9pm to midnight warmup, then house/techo until 6am. Gayest for Sunday T-dances.
Secret (Nizhniy Susalnyj pereulok 7, Bldg 8; Metro Kurskaya), dance and show club, two dance floors, young mixed crowd, sexy go-go boys, drag shows, talent contests, food, nightly 11pm to 6am.
Sharm (ulitsa Dubininskaya 69; Metro Paveletskaya), two-level dance club, big dance floor, young male stripper shower show, dark room, dress & "face control" entry policy.
Russian banya are basic, traditional features of life, for the relief of all that ails a body, and the spirit too. Birch branch beatings, hot sweats and cold plunges, massage, and of course vodka have long figured in getting away from a frigid world; sometimes all-male, but often mixed. Villages had communal saunas, families often have their own, and city authorities of all regimes built them in every neighborhood. To explore a bit, off the beaten track, see a list of over 40 such Moscow establishments at the English-language website NewDosug.
Traditional establishments are often discreetly sexual at the least, but for bathhouses similar to those in Europe and America, with a more blatant scene, the new gay saunas are your best bet.
Mayakovka Spa (Oruzheynyl pereulok 13, bldg.2; Metro Mayakovkaya), the first western-style gay sauna, under 24-year-olds free entry, bar, porn screenings, jacuzzi and steam room; party events, drag cabaret shows.
Nashe Spa (ulitsa Pokrovka, 45/2; Metro Krasnye Vorota), cruise maze, stripper stage shows, dance floor, bar, naked young waiters, dry sauna and steam, pool, massage: "any complexity/ for every taste."
Thermas Sauna (ulitsa Sadovaya Spasskaya 18/1; Metro Kasnye Vorota), central location, pool, steam, solarium, restaurant/bar, private rooms, some commercial sex action; dark nights, party events, drag shows.
Voda (Bolshoi Savinskii pereoulok 12, bldg 3; Metro Frunzenskaya), large, clean, popular facility; pool, workout area, steam and dry sauna; good-looking young crowd, sex in labyrinth and steams rooms. Moscow Bears nights Wednesdays 5-11pm.
Here are a few general-public hotels/hostels with proximity to the gay scene, and a wide range of prices. Our map & listings page has links to these and more hotels. Visit Moscow has a guide to 130 hotels around the city.
Ararat Park Hyatt Hotel (Neglinnaya St 4, Meshchansky; 7-495-783-1234) world-class, residential style hotel in central Moscow, within immediate vicinity of Bolshoi Theatre, minutes walk from Red Square and central business district.
Comrade Hostel (Maroseyka St 11, 3rd fl; 7-495-628-3126) three minutes from metro in historic Kitai Gorod near Red Square and Moscow River; cafes, restaurants, stores and clubs. Refurbished 200 year-old building, dorm room bunk beds, free internet access, cozy common room, kitchen access.
Godzillas Hostel (Bolshoi Karetnyy 6; 7-495-699-4223) largest hostel in Moscow, English/American management, single, twin, triple rooms, 4-10 bed dorms; 24-hour reception, no curfew, internet cafe, multi-lingual, helpful staff.
Golden Apple Boutique Hotel (Malaya Dmitrovka 11; 7-495-980-7000), five-star, 92 rooms, elegant, comfortable; business facilities and health club 24 hours a day.
Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya (Kalanchevskaya St 21/40; 7-495-627-5550) in iconic Soviet era tower, renovated to Hilton standards, short walk to Leningradskiy Rail Station, easy access to Red Square and Kremlin.
Hotel Akvarel (Stoleshnikov Alley 12, Bldg 3; 7-495-502-9430), stylish business-class lodgings at center of cultural district; 23 pleasant and quiet rooms, each with satellite TV, internet and all amenities.
Hotel Budapest (Petrovskie Linii 2/18; 7-495-925-3050) at heart of Moscow in neo-classic building; near Red Square, St Basil's Cathedral, the Bolshoi, and Okhotny Riad shopping.
Napoleon Hostel (Maly Zlatoustinskiy St, Dom 2; 7-495-628-6695), in trendy Kitai Gorod district of cobblestone alleys, old merchant houses and tiny churches, 5 minutes walk from Red Square and Kremlin. Friendly 24-hour multi-lingual staff for information, train and theater tickets, taxi assistance.
Nova House (Devyatkin pereulok 4, apt. 6; 7-495 623-4659) on quiet street, beautiful pre-revolutionary building in old Kitai Gorod preservation district, 4 minutes walk from Metro. Bicycles, internet access, common rooms, kitchen, staff assistance for travel and visa needs.
The Trans-Siberian Hostel (Barashevskiy pereulok 12; 7-495 916-2030), Lonely Planet: "you won't find a private room at this price anywhere else in Central Moscow." Mixed 4, 6, 8 bed dorms, twins and triples, breakfast included, multi-lingual staff, full services, ten minutes walk from Kitai Gorod.
Restaurants and Cafes
Art Garbage / Zapasnik (Starosadsky pereulok 5; Metro Kitay Gorod), Moscow Union of Artists' comfy nook off Kitai-Gorod, home-like setting, hearty eclectic food: meat and potatoes, buffalo wings, Mexican pancakes, pasta, chinese noodle dishes. Good desserts, reasonable prices, live music twice weekly.
Bookafe (Glinishchevskiy pereulok 3; Metro Tsvetnoi Bulvar), intimate coffeeshop and bookstore, arts crowd, open all-hours; books on fashion, photography, architecture, gay erotic art in English, German and French. Food from sandwiches and snacks to crepes, pizzas and Fettuccini Alfredo; also breakfast.
Cafe Margarita (ulitsa Malaya Bronnaya 28; Metro Mayakovskaya), warm, cozy, fun and unpretentious ambience; book-lined walls, and classically trained musicians play upbeat tunes. Full bar, Russian food with pan-Euro influences includes blini and borsch.
Cafe Pushkin (Tverskoy Blvd. 26A; Metro Pushkinskaya) open around the clock for gourmet Mediterranean and Russian cuisine, breakfast, lunch and dinner; meat, fish, soups, salads and vegetarian; wine list, beer on tap, grand piano music, summer roof terrace.
Correa's (Bolshaya Ordynka Zamoskvorechie 40/2; Metro Mayakovskaya), Muscovite favorite from Puerto Rican-New Yorker chef Isaac Correa: fusion cuisine, rich aroma of fresh coffee, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Also breakfast muffins, pancakes and cereals; veggie options, deli classics, great desserts; with five locations.
Darbar Restaurant (Leninsky prospekt 38, off Hotel Sputnik lobby; Metro Leninskiy Prospekt), area's most authentic Indian food, reasonable prices, English-language menu.
Goodman Steakhouse (Novinsky bulvar 31, Barrikadnaya; Metro Krasnopresnenskaya), classic American-style setting, low lighting, retro music, wall photos, leather couches; authentic, not inexpensive Australian and New Zealand beef steak; English-language menu.
Gorki (1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya St 3; Metro Mayaskovskaya), plush old-style Soviet chic setting, Sicilian chef, Russian caviar and beef stroganoff, or Italian pastas, meat and fish; extensive dessert selections, good service.
Jagannath Vegetarian Restaurant (Kuznetsky Most St 1; Metro Kuznetsky Most), funky cafe/buffet restaurant, predominantly vegan; health food store bulk items, moderate prices, scant English spoken.
Arkady Novikov heads a group with over 50 restaurants, each unique and specializing in a single concept or ethnic cuisine - critically acclaimed quality at commensurate price ranges. Their website Novikov Group, now in Russian only, is easy enough to figure out, with photos and maps to each establishment.