The Embassy of the Soviet Union in Moscow

The Embassy of the Soviet Union in Moscow

Country Gor Nakhapetyan
Gor Nakhapetyan Country

A breakthrough is almost always a turning point, a pass- ing from the present to the future. But it’s quite different when you suddenly realise that the point of no return you’ve passed was, in fact, arbitrary. What is proclaimed to have ended carries on, albeit illicitly. Though the USSR has been erased from the map, it yet remains. As a place of birth, as nostalgia for oneself, young and immortal, as the absolute reflex of internationalism. The most Soviet of Moscow’s legendary restaurants, Aragvi has been given new life by Gor Nokhapetyan, whose name has come to be associated with the construction and shaping of the future. How? People of action can distinguish map from territory.

As I see it, when opening a business or restaurant, this isn’t all you are doing. You are also discovering for yourself people with whom you are ready to follow a certain path. Everything that we do is done with and for the sake of others. We all have our own psychology, each pertaining to our own distinct personality types. Some people are private, inward, their power replenished by silence and solitude. I am of another type, always in search of interesting people, the key word here being «interesting.»

«We are friends, so long as we’re interested» — I love saying that. I make friends with those whom are interest- ing to me. At times, compatibility leads to a partnership that ceases to be linear; there is a fundamental difference when one plus one no longer equals two, but instead results in a sum of ten or twenty. What’s most important is that the partnership amounts to the creation of something new. The value of the manifested idea, a project that may be expressed in money, or in emotions, or in some other aspect of living that has been changed for the better.

When my partners suggested reviving Aragvi, I was intrigued, first of all. It was an interesting project to discuss, to dig into at every stage. Someone at some point brought up a question: ‘Isn’t it strange, for an an Armenian to open a Georgian restaurant?’ It then occurred to me that Aragvi could be a means of connecting certain fragments of my life. Born from a Tbilisi Armenian father, in my birthplace of Georgia, where my childhood and summer holidays took place. Some piece of my soul remained there.

No one locked doors, and living space was not confined to apartment space, all neighbours living together in a big, beautiful house.

My grandfather and relatives lived on Machabeli, one of the oldest central streets near Freedom Square, where each house is a story — Nicholas II, for instance, even stayed in one of them. There are also, of course, these old houses with long balconies that stretch to connect a huge number of apartments together. All with the classic, cosy Tbilisi courtyards. There was a beautiful fountain in our yard, although I don’t remember if it worked. Life in these homes flows in its own way, possible only there and probably nowhere else. I remember being still very young and wandering freely along our long balcony, at any given moment stopping by someone else’s home. I could have a meal at one neighbour’s place, sleep over at another’s. No one locked doors, and living space was not confined to apartment space, all neighbours living together in a big, beautiful house.

I remember the feasts — long toasts, lots of talking, large and noisy tables. The communal dinner table would be set up in the yard, and everyone had something to contribute. We wanted to recreate this tradition at Aragvi. Honestly, it is very difficult. Can you come to a restaurant, having bought a ticket for your spot, and sit at the same table with a bunch of strangers? This is pretty risky and adventurous, and not everyone is brave enough to do it. But it is out of this, these more vivid experiences, that interest arises. When you’re sitting at the table with well-established company, talking about the same old topics, a certain routine develops. It might even grow boring — the stories you’ve all already heard, the moves you all know in advance. But, with the arrival of new members, there is a revival. Toasts are made like fireworks going off, and even the old stories are retold with renewed passion and nuance.

When we determined Aragvi’s mission, we realised that, most of all, we are preserving and creating its legends. To call this restaurant legendary is no exaggeration, given how many stories have arisen here, how many scenes have played out — personal, literary, theatrical, cinematic. To this day, we continue to work through what the soul of Aragvi entails, and it’s difficult material.

Teona Kontridze has called Aragvi the Georgian Embassy of Moscow. We’ve gone beyond that, claiming to be the Embassy of the former Soviet Union. All of the people who come here have spent a solid chunk of their lives — the brightest part, their youth — living in the USSR. These are people who care where they are sitting down to eat — beyond delicious food and comfort, it’s important to them to acknowledge this historic place, one in which they have something to remember. It’s part of our history, our culture, where our nostalgia is not so much for the Soviet Union itself, but for our youth, as, in youth, things were good. So they forget about all the bad things, although there is a need to keep the bad in mind, to some extent, as we preserve and cultivate the good. Friendship between people is first and foremost, a theme that is even reflected on one of our walls.

We want to return the luxury of leisurely human interaction to those who still understand it. We want to show, to those unfamiliar with the concept, what a traditional meal really is, toasting and celebrating each other.

Every day, someone comes to us with a fresh story or anecdote from the past, digging back into the old Aragvi menu, back when there were Soviet prices, and fifty rubles could get you an order of sturgeon. The history of the place dictates a great deal, from our approach to the menus, to even the way time seems to pass. If you calculated the average stay of our guests, I think we’d set the record.

The people who come to us aren’t the sort that normally go to restaurants — for them, this event is their chance to get out into the world. They come dressed up in evening attire to enjoy time with those they love, and soak up the mood. For us, most of all, it’s about creating a space that supports a format of grandeur, of celebration, of refined enjoyment in your everyday life. It’s a tricky format for Moscow.

This may give off the impression that we are wedded to the past, but this isn’t so. The second, equally important aspect of our mission is creating new legends. We have deliberately avoided trends. We want to return the luxury of leisurely human interaction to those who still understand it. We want to show, to those unfamiliar with the concept, what a traditional meal really is, toasting and celebrating each other. We want to show that there is a whole culture of positive expression and respect for those you’re with, even if your only link is that you are sitting down together for a meal.