I arrived at Moscow’s Lefortovo restaurant in a raging January blizzard with the thermometer bouncing off zero celsius. It was still the bad old days in Moscow. Accompanied by a taxi driver anxious to flee this joyless suburb, I had to hold back a smile as I recalled a grim Russian joke.
Question -- What restaurant has the best view in Moscow? Answer -- Lefortovo, because from the front door you can see all the way to Siberia.
Lefortovo restaurant lies within sight of the old KGB prison of the same name. To the average Russian it is a much more notorious place than the Lubyanka near Red Square
Turning to the restaurant entranceway as the taxi disappeared in the blowing snow, I noted a fading attempt at decoration. To my left was a brass plaque noting the hours in a 24-hour timetable from 1200 to 2300. It was high noon which in wintertime Moscow means the sun is barely off the horizon. Today the clouds left no evidence of sun at all.
But anything would be better than standing like a returning Dr. Zhivago, so I pushed against the wooden entrance door.
The dining room proved cavernous with wooden chairs and tables arranged in beer hall fashion. It was warm. Enough said.
As I was wondering why I seemed to be the only patron, a waitress approached and said something in Russian. She held up her index finger. Like everything else in the USSR, the sign on the door was out of date. Apparently I was to be served because she brought out a glass of generic fruit juice called “mors” that had substituted for vodka. Then a substantial plate of meat and potatoes arrived. The meat had less gristle than the Moscow restaurants of the time,
By 12:45 the customers began to arrive, most of them in uniform. They sat in conversational groups but the chairs next to me remained empty. Nobody asked me to pass the salt. On the other hand, nobody seemed to pay much attention to my presence either.
The dining room was beginning to fill so I came to the conclusion that fun’s fun and all that, it might be time to brave the snowstorm and find a taxi. The bill came to the ruble equivalent of 33 cents.
Outside another problem. Lefortovo lies in the obscure back streets between the Jauza river and the Kursk rail station. Maybe I was truly nearer Siberia than I was to a taxi. In such a case there was only one thing to do.
Across from the main KGB prison, with a messhall full of blue shoulder boards at my back, I boldly held up an illicit pack of prized Marlboro cigarettes, king size , flip-top. Brakes squealed and a taxi squeegeed to a halt in the snow. Soon we were crossing the Jauza and then the Moscow river, with Kremlin spires coming into view.