Restaurateur Arkady Novikov cooks up a new way of dining in Moscow.
The biggest hurdle facing budding restaurateur Arkady Novikov back in 1992 was convincing Russians to eat out. He opened his first restaurant, Sirena, in Moscow across the street from the then-drab Hotel Volga in that year, at a time when a five-star meal in the Soviet Union consisted mainly of fried potatoes, a slab of meat and a shot of vodka—at home.
So having nowhere else to sup, hotel guests tended to come over to Sirena to enjoy first-rate seafood in a city hardly renowned for fine dining. “They didn’t have a lot of choices,” he says, laughing. And Sirena soon became the talk of the town.
Two years later, Novikov opened Club T (later renamed China Club), and two years after that, Tsar’s Hunt.
Today, there are roughly 40 Novikov cafes, restaurants, bars and brasseries in Moscow, including top-tier eateries such as Aist, Galleria, Ju Ju, Next Door, Vogue Café and GQ Bar. (Novikov, who has the exclusive rights to the Condé Nast name brand in Moscow, says more magazine-themed restaurants “may be” en route.)
Everyone eats at one of Novikov’s joints. Bold-faced names are no surprise in his restaurants nowadays. Vladimir Putin favors Tsar’s Hunt, which is down the road from his compound west of the city. Boris Yeltsin was also a fan. GQ Bar, Market, Aist and China Club have all hosted government ministers, movie stars and oligarchs. Vogue Café is a magnet for models, including Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss.
It would not be quite accurate to say Novikov, 45, transformed Moscow’s restaurant scene. “Actually,” he boasts, “I created it.”
He did this, he says, by bringing a new level of service to the city. “We’re very meticulous about everything we do. We try to train the staff as well to be very aware of everything,” he says. In a country where customer service hovers between poor and abominable, the Novikov style has come to mean unparalleled attention to detail.
Novikov is sitting in Vesna, one of his haunts, which is situated on the neon-lit boulevard known as the Novy Arbat. The street once symbolized post-Soviet tacky: casinos, strip clubs, communist-era apartment blocks, leather-bound thugs, oligarchs, bulletproof Mercedes—all the trappings of the Yeltsin-era Wild East—but has now morphed into something more serious. Here, as everywhere in the city, there is a new confidence born of booming oil prices and a long-simmering hope that Russia is on the cusp of reclaiming its former greatness.
Vesna is part of the new cool with its black leather chairs, hardwood floors and street-side patio with sprawling, ecru umbrellas and space heaters and strategically situated potted plants. It is expensive, sleek, contemporary—and Novikov’s favorite word—international. Novikov says this word many times: international. His restaurants, his style, transcend national borders. He has created a new species of comfort, design and class that customers might just as well find in New York, London or São Paulo, Brazil.
Of course, people pay for feeling like they’re in New York when they’re really in the middle of Moscow. Vesna’s salad with crabmeat and rucola runs just south of $35; a glass of 2005 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis, $22. Like most of his restaurants, it is not warm or homey. The point is not to unwind, the point is to get a good table, one of those two-seaters with the little “reserved” placard next to the hand-carved ashtray, and spend money. Novikov’s dining experience is more about making an economic statement—separating the haves from the have-nots. This is the Novikov feeling: Everyone else wishes they were you right now.
“It’s a question of understanding what’s happening, what’s going on,” Novikov says, as he tries to explain his remarkable trajectory. “It’s like a puzzle.”
Equally puzzling is Novikov’s rise. Like so many Russians at the top of the food chain, he is vague about his path to riches.
From 1989 to 1991, Novikov was a chef at the Victoria restaurant in Gorky Park. Then, in December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. A few months later, he says, a friend, a patron from Victoria named “Sergei,” gave him $50,000; Novikov threw in $10,000 of his own money—it’s unclear how a 30-year-old Soviet chef stumbled on $10,000—and after scraping up another $10,000, he opened Sirena. He didn’t have enough money for a vacuum cleaner or silverware, but he served great fish.
That was only the beginning. While delighting diners, Novikov’s success also attracted the attention of the mafia. He recalls one incident at Sirena: Two thugs walked in—one short; the other, not so short. The short one placed a gun on the table and told him he’d have to start forking over 1 percent of his revenue and hire one of their people as the restaurant’s manager. Novikov balked and suddenly found himself being strangled by the beefy, tall one. Eventually, they let him go, and gave him a little more time to think things over.
He immediately called friends at the KGB. “I have people there who helped me,” he says, “and actually, there was a fight between these KGB guys and these mafia guys.” Happily for Novikov, his KGB friends had bigger guns than the mafiosi did—not always the case in the Soviet Union—and his problem with the mafia soon disappeared.
It’s a typical post-Soviet “biznez” story. Moscow now teems with oligarchs, “minigarchs” and small-time business owners who fought, paid, bribed, extorted and, in many cases, killed to survive the Nineties. What Novikov did to stay afloat—he’s quick to say business back then was “tougher” than it is now—is unclear.
What is clear is that Novikov’s business model hasn’t changed much in the past 15 years. “Our goal,” Novikov says simply, “is to put more soul into this business.”
And he couldn’t have picked a better moment, given the Russian boom. When the GQ Bar opened in March—featuring multiple dining rooms; a piano bar; an upstairs lounge with regular art exhibits; a plush, black-brown-beige interior; a world-class, Asian-fusion menu, and a sommelier who picks wines better than anyone in the city—it cost him $4 million to $5 million because of Moscow’s skyrocketing property prices, expensive chef and luxurious interior. And it is just down the block from another hotel: this time, the five-star Baltschug Kempinski, where rooms start at about $600 a night.
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye