I’ve already expressed bewilderment at the sheer variety of music that the Russian media appears to consider mainstream, but even hearing System Of A Down and Mambo Number 5 in the space of five minutes couldn’t quite prepare me for this Sunday evening.
Fresh from my trip to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, I headed across to the opera house on ул. коммунистическая where I had arranged to meet my companions for an evening drink. Promised the delights of a traditional Russian pub, we set off for жемчужина.
Although lost practically the moment we stepped off of the main street, I soon found my bearings as we pitched up at Pearl, a few hundred meters from Three Feathers Roundabout. It was nice to try somewhere new; I had somewhat tired of Abajour and it’s Coldplay/Rihanna CDs. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t what I got.
With a façade painted like some sort of second-rate tanning salon, the front door lead us into a small, unremarkable foyer where a bustling babushka hurriedly relieved us of our coats and scarves. The cloakroom was surely the most Russian thing about Pearl. Stepping through a door to the right, I found myself standing in what more closely resembled a long forgotten Spanish community centre or a Butlins-esque resort restaurant during off-season.
Three of only five patrons, we were served unpronounceable beers (the best of the worst, according to our resident Russian), and I a dish loosely based on spaghetti bolognese. As the evening’s entertainment humphed and hayed behind an eclectic assortment of instruments, our attention was drawn to the wall-mounted LCD displaying what appeared to be a music video showing a songstress milk a cow.
I had grown used to eating my dinner while sleazy American rap troupes vomited out Fs and Cs to the complete ignorance of young families and old women at the tables around me, or as backing dancers flashed breasts or simulated sex during our daily business lunches, but I couldn’t quite reconcile the sheer surreality of watching a band of fake-bearded Russians making sex-faces at a woman straddling a tractor and crying into an apple (NSFW-ish).
Luckily, our live musician soon drowned out the seemingly neverending “Na Na Nas” with his electric guitars and supporting playlist, and the video switched to some other bonkers spectacle. At first I thought that my friends might have brought me to a karaoke night, but if it was then nobody else got so much as a look-in as Russia’s finest struggled — and ultimately failed — to find a key he could actually sing in.
After five songs (it wasn’t too difficult to count, as he spent whole minutes bent over itunes between each offering) and one beer (think Tenants but without the drinkability), we decided to try somewhere else before either he returned or the dairy queen came back on screen for an encore, leaving the other patrons to an interval of Blue and Bryan Adams. Bisecting the circle at cross-angles to my usual commute, we made our way to веранда.
Veranda was the complete antithesis of Pearl: quiet, expensive and decorated at some point in the last century. With its deciduous (faux-forest) furnishings and familiar offerings (Hoegaarden), I felt immediately more tranquil and, well, drunk. It was only the second themed bar I had been to in Syktyvkar, but it couldn’t have been more different to Taverna “Flint” if it had tried.
Although technically too expensive (around £7 a pint, compared to Veranda’s £3), it was nice to be in from the cold and away from the latter’s drafty windows. By the bottom of my glass (and after an Armenian appetiser that I cannot for the life of me remember the name of; gooey, cheesy dough with a fried egg on top), taste and price ceased to matter as my third and final drink proved just right.