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Step Out in St. Petersburg

by Kristy Alpert

Sep 1, 2017
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RUSSIA’S SECOND-LARGEST CITY is second to none for after-hours entertainment. St. Petersburg was built over 42 islands, earning it the nickname the “Venice of the North.” But unlike its Italian counterpart, St. Petersburg can thank its imperial past for its lively grand squares and lavish offerings.

Even for visitors not interested in ballet or musical performances, understanding the nightly performance schedule is the key to navigating the city’s after-hours scene, as everything from dinner reservations to club hours revolves around the theater. The city is home to more than a hundred venues and theater companies that dictate the nighttime line-up of events.

Dinner reservations generally start early (most open around 6 p.m.) to allow for ample time to get to one of the evening shows, although dinner itself is a show at the city’s oldest continually serving restaurant, L’Europe. Set inside the Art Nouveau dining room of Belmond’s Grand Hotel Europe, the restaurant transports diners back in time to Russia’s golden age of indulgence, where each night a live band serenades the entrance of courses, like blini topped with Oscietra caviar and delicate veal poached in Port wine.

After-dinner entertainment starts with a trip to one of the main theaters in town — including the Mariinsky Theatre, the Bolshoi Academic Drama Theatre, the Alexandrinsky Theatre and the Mikhailovsky Theatre — where world-famous ballet dancers or vocalists captivate viewers as they perform classics like Swan Lake, Giselle, Cinderella and La Bohème. Theater season begins in early fall and stretches through early June, but the best time to see the top performers in Russia is between mid-September and December.

Clubs and bars begin to open around the time the theaters let out, and a great place to start is the hipster favorite Barodabar or Bar 812 to sip handcrafted cocktails made by tattooed mixologists wearing suspenders. The LGBTQ scene in St. Petersburg, while more liberal than elsewhere in Russia, is still developing and is not on par with other European cities. LGBTQ travelers may want to practice discretion. However, that hasn’t stopped Central Station from filling its dance floor almost every night since it opened for the LGBTQ community more than 10 years ago. For a more chill night out, it doesn’t get much cooler than The Hat Bar in Nevsky Prospect. This jazz club features live music nightly, along with one of the best whiskey selections in the city.

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