Photograph by Gerd Ludwig National Geographic August 2008
Muscovites love their nightlife. The city of 10.5 million people boasts hundreds of packed clubs and bars that on the weekends don't close until other establishments are opening for brunch. The wealthy longtime patrons of expensive entertainment can easily spend more than a thousand dollars a night, but the growing middle class has helped democratize the club scene—real disposable incomes in Russia have doubled since 1999, and the middle class now makes up as much as a third of the population. Doormen enforce an elitist "face control" policy that keeps the ugly and aggressively drunk out while letting the beautiful and well connected in. Visitors accustomed to Soviet-era aesthetics are struck by how attractive and well-dressed Muscovites have become. The fall of communism allowed a precious few, those derisively christened "New Russians," to conspicuously consume, and the practice has trickled down into the general population.
Other businesses are booming as well. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has been on a 16-year quest to revitalize the capital with new buildings and monuments, and to maintain the progress but avoid causing daytime crunches, the city's innumerable construction sites hum through the wee hours. Five million cars also stress the city's concentric network of roads. But support is dwindling for one industry: gambling. Many government officials, notably Luzhkov and Premier Vladimir Putin, back a proposed law to relocate gambling out of cities and into four special zones at the Federation's far corners by 2009. Luzhkov is a longtime critic of gambling and has intermittently closed gaming sites, and Putin famously publicly lamented that gambling has become as serious a national problem as alcoholism. But many people suspect (or hope) that some loophole will allow gambling to remain in the capital.
Moscow after dark is also packed with big-city clichés: drunkenness, homelessness, prostitution, murder. Many of the homeless suffer from alcoholism and frostbite—every year 100 to 350 people die of hypothermia on the streets. Although prostitution is illegal, it's usually tolerated, thanks to high-end customers who patronize the city's brothels and a police force with a tradition of looking the other way. Gangs and con artists also prey on easy targets such as foreigners, drunks, and the homeless. Still, street crime is rare compared with homicides—the number of murders is legendary, though in recent years its been on the decline.
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Last updated: July 15 2008