Just how valuable ARE a pair of old black Levi’s 550s and a fresh roll of Kleenex-brand two-ply toilet paper to today’s deprived Muscovites? I recently hit the fanciest nightclubs in town to see how far I could get on the real cultural currency of 1980s Russia.Apparently times have changed. MARK AMES Photos by John Heisel
FIRST STOP: CLUB FIRSTI put on my American God costume—tan Brooks Brothers slacks, blue button-down Old Navy shirt, light blue Patagonia ski jacket, Columbia duck-billed boots, NY Yankees cap, and a green backpack. Then I got a translator named Dima and headed out to Club First. (It’s really called that.)
We approached the humongous guard. “Tell him I’m willing to give him these Levi’s if he lets me in,” I said. Dima translated it. The guard very angrily shook his head and blocked the entrance with his square body, looking about 60 degrees away from us. Denied!THIRD STOP: GAZGOL’DERGazgol'der opened last year. It’s the hardest club to find, with no sign or crowd out front. It’s also the hardest club to get into. They don’t even have a guy you can argue with. Instead it’s just a door with a little video camera.I rang the doorbell. No answer. Rang it again. And again. I pulled out my Levi’s and waved them into the little camera. “You want Levi’s? For you!”Finally a voice blared through the little speaker. “No.”“Levi’s!” I said.“No. Go away.”
SECOND STOP: CLUB XIIIClub XIII is a five-minute walk from the old KGB headquarters. I approached three massive security guards, took off my backpack, pulled out the old Levi’s 550s, and held them out to one.“I’ll give you these if you let me in,” I said.He looked the other way. So I climbed up one of the stairs and tried putting some TP into his hands instead. He pushed me back. “No,” he said.“You don’t want this?”He didn’t answer.FOURTH STOP: BIBLIOTEKABiblioteka is one of Moscow’s newest additions to the upscale strip club scene. I was approached by the wonderful Vika, a six-foot-tall brunette who lap-danced me for two songs straight. When it was over I literally had to clap.Rather than giving her a twenty, I offered her a nice, fresh roll of two-ply toilet paper. She pushed it away.“No, take it,” I said, trying to stuff it into her G-string.But she kept refusing me, I think because it was just too generous.FIFTH STOP: GARAZH This is Moscow’s most reliable after-hours club, a staple for the older, richer E-and-coke crowd. Amazingly enough I was waved through the door before I could even pull out my Levi’s or toilet paper. I figured I’d offer them to someone a little needier: The bartender. When I tried to pay for my drink with the Levi’s, he at first accepted them, but then handed them back. “No, no, no,” he said. I realized it was too much to offer. So I gave him my toilet paper, a more fair exchange. He took it and put it down. Yet, astoundingly, the ungrateful bastard still demanded that I pay for the drink.