I always imagined that drinking vodka is a national pastime in Russia so imagine my surprise when I discovered that it is almost impossible to find a local bar in St.Petersburg!
Of course, this is based entirely on my own experiences and I’m sure that there are plenty of quality bars in the city so why couldn’t we find one? We were staying at the Missis Higgins hostel on Nevsky Prospekt, a street which the guide book assured us was a central location. The road seemed pretty busy, it is wide and lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. So when we left dinner in search of an evening drink we thought that it would be pretty easy to find. We set off in search of an area that was deemed to be the student bar area of town – only a short walk from our hostel. We had checked the map, we had GPS, what could possibly go wrong?
We began our walk by calling in to a small supermarket when we noticed that it was selling wine on tap. Unfortunately we did not have a handy glass, hipflask or bucket with us so we opted for something from the fridge instead – the selection was limited to beer. Russia does not enforce legal penalties for drinking in the streets so we bought some beers to drink on the way. Still clutching the beers we turned the corner where the terrain suddenly turned more sinister looking; darkened, shabby and far too isolated for us to feel particularly at ease. A very drunk man staggered towards us eyeing us with what we thought were sinister intentions but he passed without bothering us – although he did eye the beers in our hands with more than a passing interest. Maybe being allowed to drink in the streets is not such a good idea after all.
After walking around this area for a while and growing more and more uneasy about our vulnerable status as lost tourists we decided that wherever the student bar area of St.Petersburg was, it certainly wasn’t anywhere nearby and so we decided to give up our search and find our Plan B bar – a Daiquiri bar in the other direction from our hostel.
Once again we had a map, we had GPS, and we were pretty sure we knew where we were going but, alas, on entering the point at which we should be able to look up and see the welcoming arms of a Daquiri bar we once again turned into a darkened, shabbby and far-too-isolated-for-us-to-feel-at-ease sidestreet. There were no promising looking signs up the street as far as we could see. Defeated we returned home, almost three hours after we left. On the way home we called in at a supermarket and bought yogurt, sausages, bread and eggs – not quite the evening we had expected.
To make things worse, our second night in St.Petersburg didn’t yield any different results. We did find a number of restaurants (and the ubiquitous strip clubs) but not just a bar. Shocking!
I have no doubt that there are a lot of great bars in St.Petersburg but, other than seedy strip-bars, they were not within a 5 mile radius of our hotel!