I came across this story today that I first wrote and published in 2002. It remains one of my all time favorites,.
Vodka on the Rockies
By CLAUDE SALHANI | July 26, 2002 at 10:49 AM
LAS VEGAS, July 26 (UPI) — So, you really thought the Cold War was over and done with, that the Evil Empire was defeated and the good guys won, right? Well, comrades, that is all just capitalistic propaganda.
Think again, because there is a restaurant in Las Vegas, in the very heart of the capitalist temples of profligacy and decadence that attests otherwise, and puts you back in the U.S.S.R. As Lennon and McCartney would say, “boy, how lucky you are.”
“Red Square” is a restaurant that serves Russian caviar and more than 200 kinds of vodkas — many of them Russian, of course, but including some that come from Belgium, Jamaica and Jordon. Not a typo, comrades, that’s the way it’s spelled on their menu, of which the last six pages are devoted exclusively to vodkas. Ask the barman, and he shrugs his shoulders. Hey, he only serves it.
The bottle of Jamaican vodka, the staff admits, still is full from the day the restaurant opened several years ago, save for a single serving. But in all fairness, the Stoli is excellent. As are the blue cheese-filled olives. Capitalism, after all, has its advantages.
Let no one tell you, though, the people who dream up the Vegas casino themes will not go the extra step for your enjoyment.
In keeping with its Soviet philosophy of maintaining secrecy, Red Square, in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, is not an easy place to find. One gets the feeling that, somewhat like the people who ran the Kremlin on the edges of the real Red Square, those who run the Vegas version wanted to add to the aura of je ne sais-quoi.
It took this eager reporter and his dinner companion a good 10 minutes of wandering among a sea of poker tables, slot machines and other tools of Western debauchery, before locating it. And that, only after swallowing my male pride and asking for directions — twice.
But then, lo and behold, there it is! Red Square, in all its Soviet splendor.
A large, decapitated statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin stands guard outside the establishment. However, unless you read Russian, you will need to decipher that this is indeed the place you are looking for. There are no signs for Red Square, as such, rather the name, high above the church-like entrance is chiseled in stone — or what passes for stone in Vegas — and is written in Cyrillic characters, with the reversed “R.”
You enter, nevertheless with a little trepidation, into a grandiose room decorated in deep, Soviet scarlet red. The lights are dim and at first you feel as though you should whisper. This is, in most probability, the only temple to communism left standing in the entire Western world. And remember, there certainly are not many left in the communist world, either. Even in Russia, Lenin’s portraits have disappeared from government offices, and except for a few die-hard party apparatchiks, people have largely stopped revering him.
Two or three large — and I mean large — Great Patriotic War-era posters decorate the walls. (That’s how the Soviets refer to World War II.) The images of valiant Soviet comrade-soldiers cover some of the walls, running from floor to ceiling. A painting of Comrade Lenin hangs elegantly on the far wall, high above the dining room. Big Brother is there to make sure you enjoy your evening. With every sip you almost feel obliged to raise your glass to toast the great leader, and the working class — the latter who certainly could never afford to wine and dine in such self-indulgent splendor.
The bar, one of the most intriguing aspects of Red Square, is covered with a 2-inch slab of ice. Very convenient to keep your vodkas ice cold, as they should be. And also convenient for refugees from the gulags, just in case they forgot what their front porches in Siberia felt like.
The waiters and staff are all dressed in black and sport a hammer and sickle, the Soviet emblem, in a small red square on their chest. They look like the bad guys in James Bond films. Only Ernst Stavro Blofeld, you know, the man with the white cat, and Rosa Klebb, the evil KGB woman with a stiletto hidden in her shoe, are missing.
As an observer, and a chronicler of history, I found the concept of a Soviet-styled bar intriguing and wished Red Square would use Russian music, instead of Western rock and roll, which sadly clashes with the rest of the décor.
Russian music is wonderfully rich and the Soviet Red Army Band’s harmony would add a seal of greater authenticity and zest to the place. Or preferably, listening to the songs of someone like Vladimir Vysotski — Russia’s answer to Bob Dylan — probably would encourage you to consume greater amounts of vodka, which by the way, is easy to do when you stare at all those inviting bottles.
A voice such as Vysotski’s can only be acquired after years of smoking filterless Russian cigarettes and consuming vast amounts of Russian vodka, preferably clandestinely distilled in your uncle’s backyard shed.
But all this nostalgia for the past makes me wonder if the next themed attraction will be a Third Reich bar down the hall. Or maybe the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino could dedicate a room to the Vichy collaborationists?