But what a change. When I first visited Moscow in 1973, the entire population of the city seemed to retire to a crypt as soon as the sun went down. The few cars on the street were small, dyspeptic Zhigulis. A shop window display might be a single dried fish. Red Square was empty except for the honor guard at Lenin's Tomb, and billboards featured the stony visage of General Secretary Brezhnev. Banners declared, "The Communist Party Is the Vanguard of the Working Class!" That was the world that today's New Russians grew up in, and it is no wonder that their repressed energy and frustration have erupted with a passion.
Russians are over the top. They're not "old money" hiding behind ivy-covered walls. In fact, they often refuse old money. It's new money, crisp American $100 bills flown in daily and spent almost as fast. Think about it. A billion dollars is a thousand million dollars. How do you celebrate success on such a scale? How much caviar can you eat? How much bubbly can you drink? Et cetera. That's why clubs were invented.
Clubs give the rich the chance to "flaunt it, baby, flaunt it," assured that "face control" will stop undesirables at the door. Face control is executed by men who in a glance can determine your financial profile and celebrity status. And whether you are carrying a gun.
The first sign that the GQ Bar was hot was the number of Bentleys and Lamborghinis lined up at the curb. I was visiting with writer Lana Kapriznaya and journalist Yegor Tolstyakov. Lana is dark haired, petite, about a hundred pounds, including cigarette smoke. She is an acerbic chronicler of the follies of New Russians. Yegor has a voice meant for a dirge, but see him, and he's smiling.
"Think of the GQ as a boy's club," Lana said. "A boy's club with bodyguards."
New arrivals were greeted by women who were beautiful on a surreal level. Big air kiss. Big air kiss. The GQ Bar is licensed by the magazine publisher Condé Nast International, which provides a steady supply of models who sip water at $20 a bottle and pick at Kamchatka crab, a giant crustacean served with six sauces. The interior design is out of Somerset Maugham, all dark woods and lazy ceiling fans. Not hungry? Nyet problem. GQ's VIP lounge is a watering hole for lions only. Here a man can sip Johnnie Walker Blue, light a Cuban cigar, sip a brandy, unwind, and make more money.