Seven St. Petersburg Vodka Houses to take you through the city center
Last month our friends, the co-hosts of the podcast She’s In Russia spent an evening visiting several of St. Petersburg’s ryumochnye (sing. ryumochnaya) or Soviet-style vodka houses. In the process they got predictably drunk, interviewed the strangers drinking with them, made some friends, and even squeezed an episode out of it.
They also decided to put together this guide to 7 Petersburg ryumochnye in case you find yourself in Russia’s Northern Capital looking for Soviet charm and/or a no frills place to have a shot(s) and a bite to eat on the very cheap.
But first, a brief history. In Russia in the 19th century a certain type of drinking house was established for the more laconic, on-the-go type (generally male) drinker. These were the prototype for what in the Soviet Union would become the ryumochnaya - a humble, self-service drinking house that featured spirits, an assortment of zakuski, primarily in the form of open-faced sandwiches, and perhaps some soups and heartier meat dishes for the hungry passerby.
The word ryumochnaya is a difficult one to translate. It is an adjective formed from the noun ryumka, which is a stemmed shot glass for drinking spirits or fortified wine. Vodka is poured by the ryumka or shot (50 grams minimum), and more than one portion is measured into a squat (sometimes) chilled carafe that resembles a round-bottomed flask.
Ryumochnye started to crop up around the Soviet Union in plentiful numbers starting in the 1960s. One of the primary motivations for their appearance was, apparently, to keep drunks from hanging out in courtyards, parks, and playgrounds. Ryumochnye traditionally cater to a day-drinking crowd, opening daily in the morning and closing before 11pm.
Traditional Soviet ryumochnye, or places that carefully replicate their atmosphere and price range, still very much exist in contemporary Russia. However, due to increasing rents, their overall numbers are sadly dwindling. In Petersburg today you can still find a healthy number of ryumochnye all around the city center, ranging in style from authentic Soviet, to clean hipster, to replica imperial. If a Soviet ryumochnaya was a place you stopped by in at lunch time for a meal and a quick shot, then these days for many people it’s most definitely more of a place to linger and meet friends, like any bar.
To help acquaint you with the phenomenon in the flesh, we selected 7 Petersburg ryumochnye all located in Petersburg’s historic center. Below you’ll find the name (all mostly just ryumochnaya), address, and brief description of each, plus a customized map to help you find them. Because the only thing better than reading about drinking ice cold vodka, chased with pickled herring and onion on brown bread, while sitting with friends in a tile-floored room with garish curtains and portraits of Lenin, Marx, and Putin on the wall is, of course, doing it yourself.
Seven Petersburg Vodka Houses
Ryumochnaya on Vosstaniya
Address: Ul. Vosstaniya ul. 12
Open 09:00 – 22:30
A small, unassuming establishment, you have to go down a small flight of stairs from the street to enter. Once inside you’re greeted by a cozy setting that fits probably 10 people comfortably with one table, a couple of counters running along the side walls, and a smattering of tall stools. We made it here just after last call, but still managed to order a round of cold vodka and pickled herring, soaked in a plentiful amount of oil and served with thinly sliced pickled onion and brown bread.
Address: Ul. Mayakovskogo 20
Hours: 12:00 – 23:00
Of the authentic Soviet style ryumochnye in the city, Mayak is by far the most popular and the most kitsch-ily Soviet in decor. On a weekend evening it’s usually pretty packed with people. Along with a range of vodkas, beer, pickles and open-faced sandwiches, Mayak also serves inexpensive, filling, and very decent full meals. If you’re looking for authentic Soviet vibes, but maybe want to avoid the more hard core grit of less mainstream ryumochnye, then this is the place to go.
Address: Pushkinskaya ul. 1
Hours: 12:00 – 23:00
Another quite popular spot with a choice of seating, on one side low cafe tables, on the other the more traditional high bar-like tables with stools. The decor gives a mildly sports + jazz bar vibe, but retains an authentic ryumochnaya simplicity.
Ryumochnaya on Razyezzhaya
Address: Razyezzhaya ul. 11
Hours: 10:00 – 23:00
Plastic cutlery, snacks served on paper plates, all as it should be. Though this spot opened just a few years ago, it does a very good job of replicating the Soviet atmosphere. Fake plants and bad paintings decorate the walls and the small space is filled with wooden tables and benches. You won’t get full meals here, but we hear they make a mean pickled cucumber.
Zvenigorodskaya ul. 4
She’s In Russia making new friends
This glaringly brightly lit, yet surprisingly cozy establishment is fittingly (for us) called FRIENDSHIP. This was where we spent most of our ryumochnaya tour and made the most friends for the night. Probably because it’s open 24 hours. It’s also a good place to watch sports, there are a couple of TVs and an entire mirrored wall of football scarves. The expansive interior (two big rooms) and hours of operation set this spot apart from its more traditional neighbors, but you can still get vodka by the gram/milliliter and assorted zakuski. We had our usual pickled herring with onion, this time plus sliced boiled potatoes. And plenty of brown bread, of course.
Ul. Dekabristov 53
Open 10:00 – 22:00
From FRIENDSHIP we move along to SUCCESS, nestled on a corner near the Mariinksy Theatre and probably the least mainstream ryumochnaya in our tour. Located just below street level, with low ceilings and a stone floor, the decor is plain and simple, not kitschy. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d probably miss it - - the entrance is almost unmarked, except for small white sign that reads Zakusochnaya, helpfully translated as “Lunch Room/Snack Bar”. It’s close to one edge of the historic center, fairly near a factory (though you wouldn’t know it from the surrounding architecture), so the regulars tend to be coming on their way to or from work, there to play chess or watch a football game over a drink.
Russkaya Ryumochnaya No. 1
Konnogvardeysky bul. 4
Open: 12:00 – 24:00
We decided to end this tour with a decidedly non-Soviet example. More like a restaurant than a simple vodka house, Russian Vodka Room No. 1 opened in 2008 and was made specifically to replicate an entirely different atmosphere and culture - - that of a late 19th century Russian dining establishment. It serves very delicious traditional Russian cuisine and lots of vodka to choose from. It’s also definitely a good place to go if you have a large group, there are big tables and plenty of space. If you’re just looking to drink and snack, the vodka is still charmingly served in a carafe (here’s it’s left on ice near your table) and they have an assortment of hot and cold zakuski that you won’t find in your regular ryumochnaya. It is, unsurprisingly, much pricier.