“We ordered ouha au champagne and some tiny game” at Yar: The legendary Moscow restaurant across centuries

January 2
Culture

Moscow has been recognised as the world tourism capital for the second year running. It has won two prestigious international World Travel Awards for World’s Leading City Destination, beating London, New York and Paris.

The Russian capital lures guests not only with historical sights, but also with convenient services. Moscow also finds new ways to tell its visitors about the most interesting places. Many old buildings can now be visited online without leaving home. One of the best online tours, according to Muscovites, is the one to the old restaurant Yar.

Denis Romodin, a Moscow expert and the senior researcher at the Department of Educational Programmes of the Museum of Moscow, shared with mos.ru several stories from the nearly two-centuries-long history of the legendary Moscow restaurant.

A literary artists’ hangout

The history of the legendary Yar on the Petersburg Motorway – in those years, it was practically on the outskirts of Moscow – began in 1826 in a completely different place. That year, a new place opened at the corner of Kuznetsky Most and Neglinnaya Street, in the house of Senate Chancellor Ludwig Chavannes – “a restaurant with lunch and dinner fare, all sorts of grape wines and liqueurs, desserts, coffee and tea at very reasonable prices.” The owner of the new hotel restaurant was Frenchman Tranquille Yard – his foreign name, albeit a little distorted, later became the name of one of the most famous Moscow establishments.

When in Moscow, Alexander Pushkin repeatedly visited Yard's restaurant. The famous poet even had a favourite item on the menu – sweet rhubarb soup. By the way, it was there that the literary intelligentsia, represented by Pushkin, Yevgeny Baratynsky, Pyotr Vyazemsky and Nikolai Yazykov, commemorated a mutual friend, poet Anton Delvig, on 27 January 1831.

Orest Kiprensky. Portrait of Alexander Pushkin. Fragment. 1827

The pre-1917 police lists contained the names of those who stayed at Yard’s hotel and were under surveillance. In 1832, the hotel lodged Pavel Golitsyn, a participant in the 1813-1814 military campaigns and member of the Union of Prosperity, a secret organisation of the Decembrists. On 6 January 1842, poet and revolutionary Nikolai Ogaryov stayed there on his way to St Petersburg, and in February 1846, after going abroad for a while, he stayed at Yar again, together with poetry translator Nikolai Satin.

“We have not seen each other in a few years... So Granovsky and I rushed to Yar, where they stayed, our hearts thundering,” philosopher Alexander Herzen reminisced. He also described his first dinner at the famous restaurateur’s place in My Past and Thoughts.

“I had a gold coin, and Ogaryov had about as much on him. We were absolute novices then, and after thinking for a long time, we ordered ouha au champagne (fish soup based in champagne), a bottle of Rhine wine and some tiny game, so when we finished dinner, which was ridiculously expensive, we were still hungry...” Alexander Herzen wrote.

From 1848 to 1851, Yar was located in the Hermitage Garden, not the one that is well known to modern Muscovites, but the old one – on Bozhedomka (now Durova Street).

In 1851, Yar reopened but this time as a country restaurant in Petrovsky Park, on Petersburg Motorway (now Leningradsky Prospekt, the current location) owned by General Alexander Bashilov. The place had a small common room and tiny stall-like private rooms. It also had a small garden facing the motorway with two gazebos and a swing.

Yar did not offer any special entertainment at that time. But it differed from other places because it had an exemplary cuisine, and sometimes the owner himself would feed late guest, personally cooking up a cutlet, for example.

The Romani Yar

We do not know for certain which of the owners first began inviting Romani choirs to entertain guests at Yar. In summer, when multiple holidaymakers and local summer residents enjoyed walks in the adjoining park, the restaurant was packed to capacity. In winter though, the place was practically empty, and there were times when no one dropped by all day. However, if a group of diners arrived in the evening, the Roma appeared right on cue, and, according to the memoirs of contemporaries, they made a racket until the morning. Alexei Pleshcheyev, an expert in Romani culture, wrote that the practice of having a Romani choir on the premises at restaurants dates back to the 1860s.

In 1871, Fyodor Aksyonov bought Yar, and under his ownership, the restaurant flourished. After he died in 1895, Yar was purchased by Alexei Sudakov, a Yaroslavl peasant, whose life can now model as a success story.

Sudakov began working as a waiter in 1875, in a lower-class tavern in Khamovniki, where his father served as a salesman. Quite quickly, the enterprising peasant bought his own tavern, modest and inexpensive, on Rozhdestvenka Street. After a while, he launched another catering enterprise, and finally, having amassed 92,000 roubles, he bought Yar in Petrovsky Park. If converted into modern money, the former peasant apparently bought the restaurant for more than 100 million roubles.

Famous writers, artists and other creative people were regulars at Yar. At different times, one could meet Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, Valery Bryusov, Fyodor Chaliapin, the Vasnetsov brothers, Isaac Levitan, Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov there.

In 1909-1913, Sudakov hired the architect Adolf Erichson to develop a new Yar building in the Art Nouveau style.

The building of the former Yar restaurant on Leningradskoye Motorway, 1930s. Courtesy of Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate

After 1917

After the October 1917 Revolution, the restaurant closed. The place briefly reopened during the New Economic Policy, but later, the building was used as a cinema, a gym for the Red Army soldiers, a hospital, and in 1925 – as workshops for the film-engineering department of the State College of Cinematography.

In 1939, architects Pavel Ragulin and Nikolai Mekhanikov rebuilt it into a club of the Central House of Civil Aviation, and artist Pavel Korin was invited to paint the ceiling. In the late 1930s, the former Yar housed the Central House of Civil Aviation – the Pilots’ Club, and during the Great Patriotic War, the Air Force Club.

In 1952, by order of Joseph Stalin, the building was again rebuilt by architects Pavel Shteller, Iosif Loveiko and Vladimir Lebedev. Yar was remade in the Stalin Empire style but partially kept its previous dimensions and rooms. A new building with hotel rooms was added along Raskovoi Street. The architects were awarded the Stalin Prize for that project.

From 1969, part of the hotel's premises with the adjacent space designed by Erichson was used by the Romen Theatre.

In 1998, the restaurant at the hotel had its historical name reinstated. Its central room had been entirely preserved since 1909-1911. So today, the famous Moscow Yar can be seen and visited again on Leningradsky Prospekt.

Source: mos.ru

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