Whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch never got feted by the good folks at Ritz-Carlton Moscow.
Not long after the Ritz on Tverskaya opened this summer, I got a phone call from the public relations office asking if I'd like to come check the place out--see the rooms, taste the sushi (best in Moscow, they said) and take in the view from the hotel's rooftop lounge and restaurant. They were arranging press tours, and somehow the eXile ended up on their contact list. I was happy to oblige, expecting the usual courtesy drink plus entrée, maybe dessert.
Nothing in my years of experience with press junkets could have prepared me for what was in store.
I walked through the revolving front door and was immediately greeted by a smiling hotel representative who whisked me up to the Club Lounge on the eleventh floor. Like all good elevators, it was silent and seemed to glide through the air. When the doors opened, the magnificently furnished lounge was empty. I was told to sit down and relax while I contemplated the seafood buffet arranged against the wall opposite an amazing view of the Kremlin. I zeroed in on the steaming lobster tail and wondered how many I could fit in my coat pockets. Four; five max, I decided. The next think I know, a woman's voice says behind me: "You look like you've had very hard day." An arm fell around my shoulders and a stunning brunette swirled into view and handed me a glass of Champagne. She sat down beside me.
"Are you with the eXile?" she asked. Why--why, yes. Yes I was.
"I like this newspaper very much. I have a special treat for you," she said, caressing my ear. "You like lobster? Eat. Then some friends will be joining us. I hope you don't mind. If you get tired of the view here we can all go relax in your penthouse suite."
My penthouse... suite?
And then she placed a golden Ritz-Carlton room key in my lap. "There's a full bar in room. And Jacuzzi, of course. Do you like Jacuzzi?"
Yes I like Jacuzzi, I love Jacuzzi, I mumbled, as a strange kind of techno music began blaring through hidden speakers into the room. The beeping got louder and louder until I was fully awake and staring at my Nokia phone alarm. It had brought me back to my lobsterless apartment eight metro stops from the Ritz-Carlton.
But recently my dream came true, sort of. A couple of weeks ago an American magazine assigned me to write a travel story about luxury Moscow. If you haven't noticed, the "Luxury Moscow" story is very hot at the moment; every publication has to have one. Anyway, one of the first things I did was call the Ritz-Carlton to get room rates and that sort of thing. The p.r. guy they put me in touch with invited me over to the hotel to join him and a delegation of visiting British journalists for sushi dinner in the hotel's 02 Lounge. (In the official logo, the "2" is smaller and lower, apparently denoting two oxygen molecules, but I can't figure out how to do it in Word.)
Just like my dream, I was met in the lobby and whisked up in a silent glass elevator. But instead of the red velvet lounge of my dream, the doors opened onto the plexiglass domed O2 bar. There's something vaguely Vegas about the place, but the view of the Kremlin and Red Square is probably one of the best two in town. In the summer when the terrace is functioning the place must be packed. The bar is lined by futuro egg-shaped chairs. The night I was there the scene was full of the usual Ritz guest suspects: A rich, bored Italian-looking family; an overweight middle-aged businesswoman having drinks with a pouty gay blonde Russian gigalo; and some rich young i-bankers with supermodel girlfriends, one of whom I swear was giving me the eye.
Then there was our table--five British journalists, the p.r. guy, and myself. We drank bottomless glasses of champagne and at some point a massive sushi platter arrived that probably cost several hundred dollars. I was drunk by the time the food showed up and I really can't say much about it, other than the caviar was crunchy and the wasabi came in this huge sculpted lump that looked like a giant fossil. One of the Brits ordered a Caesar salad, which also probably cost several hundred dollars. It had a very long and luxe looking slice of Parmesan cheese draped across the top of the lettuce.