But back to Cabaret: just the week before, I'd stood outside watching a friend prostrate himself trying to impress the impassive art director. It was as humiliating a scene as you could imagine: we were well dressed and he claimed to know the guy working the door, yet we were relegated to the crowd of 15 or so other unfortunate souls who didn.t make the grade. Meanwhile, other, better-connected guys wearing unbuttoned shirts with wide labels, leather pants and other flamboyantly faggy designer styles got out of their inomarki and waltzed by. Never mind that I'd seen some of these monkeys crammed in the back of their Land Cruiser taking swigs from a bottle of Wild Turkey. The message was clear: these guys were more classy than us.
But this time there were six of us single guys, and we walked right in. If anything, it was too easy. Dan, who is relatively ignorant of the nuances of Moscow face control, was caught totally off guard. I'd told him a thousand times how we'd never get through, and when no one even questioned us at the door, he didn't have time to hide the camera that was supposed to capture me getting humiliated. But they didn't even object to the camera; the okhranik told him to pocket it and let him through.
One problem when you expect face control is that, if there aren't crowds getting denied outside, you feel like the club is totally beat. When the whole city operates by a single principle, it's impossible not to internalize it. They weren't turning away plebs at the door on a Saturday night, which meant Cabaret's losing its mojo. Indeed, the girls inside were kind of beat. Horrible faces or a spare tire or rapidly aging or some other fatal flaw. And they were all bouncing to obnoxious retrohits from the '50s. What the hell was wrong with this place?
We didn't last long. Soon, our original group had left for more trendy pastures. Rumor had it that the Impressions by Marat party at Zima would be impossible to get into. Victor Calderone, a DJ who'd worked with Madonna, would be spinning; some people were saying that important chinovniki from the government apparatus would be there, others that inside, a seat on a bench was retailing for five grand. Clearly we wouldn't have to worry about breezing by face control here. But first we figured we'd check out Marica, one of Moscow's original dorkadent clubs responsible for introducing the term face control. Alas, clubs do not age well; even the streetlights around Marica seemed dim. A couple of Volgas were parked out front, but otherwise there was no traffic. There weren't even bouncers standing on the street. Without even trying to get rejected, we headed to Zima.
It did not disappoint. As we pulled up, a crowd several people deep pushed their way towards the door. Total babes tried to elbow their way to the front, vying for the art director's attention. You could see him reveling in his power; Zima's at the top of its game right now, and no doubt Pasha -- its art director -- thinks it somehow reflects on him.
It's only natural that Zima, which is probably Moscow's most exclusive club these days, has the most hateful guy manning the door. He looks the part: he wears all black, although it does't hide the fact that he's starting to get fat, and has a weak chin, a mole-like smirk and an earpiece connecting his mobile phone. His gaze is always floating a couple of inches above everybody's heads, scanning the horizon for someone important so he can curry favor with them. He never speaks more than a couple of words with anybody; the people he refuses entrance to are beneath him, whereas the people he lets through wouldn't waste their time on him. So Pasha occupies a precarious position, in which his only power or joy comes from denying people.
But even that power isn't absolute. Just last week, after rejection at the hands of Cabaret, we headed to Zima. Pasha, as usual, was spending his weekend standing in the cold and enjoying it. Initially he denied us, but after I made a call, he was forced to concede the point and let us in. I hardly claim to know Pasha well, but the only time I've seen him smile was when I handed him my phone with his boss on the other end. At that moment he looked like my image of Khrushchev in Stalin's court: a clown with no authority, eager to please. But this week I wasn't going to take the easy way out with a phone call. I was going to go through the whole demeaning process of waiting to be let in. Besides, it was only my first rejection of the night and my honor wasn't too sullied yet. So instead I groveled for a while and chatted up a girl in the crowd. I asked why a girl as beautiful as she was -- and she was stunning -- would stand there like a sheep. "If you come here several times, and they start to recognize you, then you might get a club card." Once you've got that, you're IN!