Those who keep an eye on urban mutations have nicknamed it ‘Moscow’s new Soho’. Something of a cliché, perhaps, but the name does illustrate the new, innovative identity of this quarter animated by the ‘Red October’ (former) chocolate factory. In a few short years, Red October has become the haunt of art gallery owners, producers and designers of all stripes. It’s the beating heart of a quarter in full revival - not in an anonymous suburb of Moscow, mind you, but right on Bolotny Island on the Moskova, just a quarter hour’s walk from the Kremlin walls. Founded in 1687, the complex has retained the name it was given when nationalised in 1917, as well as the emblematic red of the bricks that cause it to stand out even while faced with the highly visible Christ the Saviour Cathedral just opposite. The very cathedral where Pussy Riot made headlines after performing their openly anti-Putin number in February 2012.
Graphics studios, designer ateliers…
A walk through Red October’s courtyards and dark alleyways is very like a walk through similar industrial sites that have been converted into artists’ quarters in London or Berlin. At the foot of old smokestacks, casually dressed young people smoke cigarettes as they stroll along or have a chat before heading back to factory floors now housing graphics studios, designer ateliers and photo galleries. Bars and restaurants such as Art Akademiya and Dome market themselves as hangouts for the in-crowd. In a gigantic old hangar, the Rai Club has been entertaining the electro crowd since 2007. A fashionable media production firm called Fresh Production is well-established here. You can even buy sweets; although the factory has relocated, Red October chocolates are still sold in a small shop on-site. The crowds mill about amidst dungaree-clad workers busy renovating the various buildings of this vast post-industrial islet.
In the same district you’ll find Kirillov House, a mansion dating from the mid-17th century and gifted by Emperor Alexander II to the Imperial Archaeological Society in 1868. Old babushkas can be spotted walking about the weedy gardens that separate it from a small Orthodox church. All around them, the quarter is slowly being transformed as new offices and flats emerge. Along the Moskova, lounge restaurants are crowded with bimbos and the Russian nouveaux riche; one such place is the Strelka Bar with vast terraces where one goes to be seen. At the southern tip of the island, on an islet specially designed for the purpose, you’ll find the (in)famous statue of Peter the Great by the Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. At 94 metres high, it is Russia’s tallest. Created for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, it originally represented Christopher Columbus and was intended as a gift for a city of the New Continent. But after New York, Baltimore and Miami declined the donation, it ended up in Moscow where the sculptor had to replace the Genovese navigator’s head with that of the Tsar. Those who are uninspired by Tsereteli’s kitschiness may prefer the Christ the Saviour Cathedral situated on the other side of the Moskova; a pedestrian footbridge will take you directly there. An exact replica of the church destroyed by Stalin in 1931, it proves that Moscow’s traditional side lives on.
The best time of year is from May to September. Moscow summers are hot and humid; winters are snowy and harsh.
Formalities: A purpose of visit document and visa are required. Other than British passport holders born in the UK, most travellers will need to provide travel or general health insurance information. Passports must have two blank pages for visas.
Hotel: Hotel Peter 1, Neglinaya St.17. A top-of-the-line hotel for businesspeople and tourists.