Nightlife in St. Petersburg at Terminal Bar, a lively, soulful, must-go asset to the nightlife scene where everyone’s a friend
I order a Grappa di Prosecco and watch the bearded academic next to me read the newspaper and drink Hennessy on the rocks. He smokes cigarette after cigarette, flipping the pages of the paper in between grinding stubs in the ashtray.
The smoke intermingles with a severely elegant, red-mouthed woman beside him, smoking a Dunhill and sipping a dirty martini.
Three high-heeled Russian teenagers flirtatiously haggle their way into the gleaming black bar. They order brandy that the bartender, scruffy-haired and diamond-studded, lights on fire before handing to them. The flames flare up dramatically, then disappear.
The girls applaud and blow him kisses. Middle-aged British expats play cards at the creaking table by the window, amidst lager beers and cigarettes. I get up and ask them if they come here often.
“Our favorite spot,” they answer. “It’s the only place in St. Petersburg that feels just like Europe, where you can chat and drink, and come anytime.”
I spot Sid bartending, lighting cigarettes while shaking an old-fashioned White Russian together.
“How are you?” I ask him, and he takes a shot of Bushmill and grins.
“I haven’t seen myself for a few days but my friends say I’m doing good.”
Welcome to Friday night at Terminal Bar.
“It started with three friends,” says Pavel Shteinluht, one of the bar’s three owners. “Sid Fisher had been living in Ireland and England, Ilya Bazelrsky in Israel and me in Paris. We all moved back to St. Petersburg and decided to open something. We wanted to make a mature bar, for adults.”
As Sid put it, “A bar is a responsibility, like a bourbon — you gotta be aged.”
Only a year and a half old, the long, thin bar feels classic and lived-in. Black and white photographs, taken by Ilya, line the walls.
Inspired by the décor of the now shut-down Terminal Bar in New York, Ilya aimed to evoke the same ragged aura, the same bohemian chic. His portraits are artsy and intimate, of friends and customers laughing or posing dramatically. A wooden piano is at the entrance. I feel at home in both lipstick and worn boots.
“You’re not selling booze at a bar,” Sid says. “You’re selling the atmosphere.”
“We found this completely destroyed place,” Pavel says. “It was in ruins.” Four months later, however, “We opened for our friends in January 2010 on New Years. It was completely crazy, the best New Years of my life. Two months later we opened officially. We decided to write ‘Just Opened’ on the entrance, like a ‘Just Married’ sign.”
The atmosphere was the most important aspect of Terminal’s creation. “You’re not selling booze at a bar,” Sid says. “You’re selling the atmosphere.”
“Bar is more about soul, much less about business,” Pavel says. “For us, it’s very important that the people who come feel like everyone is a friend of a friend. Or artists. Or friends of artists.”
“This a bar for your grand-daddy,” Sid says when describing the typical Terminal customer. “A bar where he shouts at the bartender, ‘Red wine, white wine, what’s the difference?’”
Nothing wrong with any of it, but for the nights that I feel like putting my hair up, wearing my glasses and evoking my inner Woody Allen, Ella Fitzgerald and Federico Fellini, there’s the fabulously artsy, run-down and cozy Terminal Bar.
Coming from New York City, where some of the most expensive restaurants look the most tattered and some of the best places are the most hidden and remote, Terminal Bar was a nice dash of my home city.
Modern chivalry exists in St. Petersburg. The city is graceful and luxurious and nightlife in St. Petersburg tends to reflect that. High-end nightclubs and exclusive restaurants with white satin tablecloths. Nothing wrong with any of it, but for the nights that I feel like putting my hair up, wearing my glasses and evoking my inner Woody Allen, Ella Fitzgerald and Federico Fellini, there’s the fabulously artsy, run-down and cozy Terminal Bar. And I’m not the only dedicated customer. Pavel loves how loyal customers treat Terminal.
“Monday and Tuesday nights are the most dead nights for restaurants and clubs,” he says. “I drove by one Tuesday night and I didn’t believe my eyes. I saw our tables on the street. All of them were jazz musicians who had just finished a concert in the garden of the Hermitage. They had pushed tables together, brought their Brazilian friends with them. It was fantastic, it was a great pleasure that Terminal was like an island for them.”
The owner’s high value on the arts comes from personal experience. Pavel studied flute in Paris and at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and Ilya works in cinema and is a professional photographer. Many of their friends and regular clients are artists, providing the bar with its introspective, intellectual ambiance.
“Once we were drinking wine,” Pavel says, launching into a favorite story. “There are eight foreigners who came. All of them are dancers from the Modern Ballet. It turns out one of them was Russian and began to play the piano. He was playing this funny Russian song. The girl from the bar came up to him and began to sing. She’s singing very loudly with him and suddenly this man with an accordion on the street rushes in and begins to play with her.”
“At that moment,” Pavel says, “I feel like it’s a scene from Blues Brothers.”
Sid gestures towards the piano. “A lot of good jazz in this city ends up on that piano. A lot of after-parties.”
The owners are constantly coming up with new ideas for the décor, new names for their cocktails, and new music for the atmosphere. Most important for them, however, is to continue to have the place to unwind, relax and be with everyone they love.
“My father was a bit disappointed I’m not a professional musician,” Pavel says. “My father asked me all the time, ‘What do you do? What do you produce?’ When I opened the bar, however, he came and said, ‘OK, I know now where I’ll spend the last days of my life.”
*Photos by Terminal Bar’s Pavel Steinluht and Ilya Ilya Bazelrsky and used with permission
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