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Scottish pubs provide cheer in Urals and Siberia despite economic gloom

By Olga Gertcyk
06 May 2016

Whisky proves popular in the land of vodka.

Despite all the odds, our guests come to spend time at our pub. Picture: Blackwood

One hostelry is even called the Doctor Scotch Pub, in the city centre of Yekaterinburg, and it provides a welcome remedy to not only the harsh cold of winter but also a fun place to meet. 

Another - Gordon's Bar - is named after a Scot, Patrick Leopold Gordon of Auchleuchries, who holds a unique place in Russian military history, a soldier of fortune promoted to General by Peter the Great after saving his throne.

In the Siberian city of Omsk, Olga Chikhun, 24 year old host of Blackwood Pub where the barmen wear traditional kilts, says her aim is a 'Scottish-style pub in Omsk where you can meet up with old friends or make new ones, set the right mood for dances, or simply hide from the weather or the worries of the city'.

In Irkutsk, some 3,250 miles east of Moscow where winter temperatures of minus 30C are considered mild, the Aberdour pub is a firm fixture on the scene, including at New Year when it hosts a Scottish-style 'Hogmanay' party. 

Scottish pubs in Siberia


Scottish pubs in Siberia

'Traditionally, Russia did not have close relations with Ireland, but the historical roots of contacts between Russia and Scotland are quite deep.' Pictures: Blackwood, MacLeod

Ruvim Gutkin, 63, co-owner of Gordon's and Doctor Scotch, said his original aim was to provide an alternative to the themed Irish pubs that sprang up in Russia after the end of the Cold War. His pubs remain popular despite the current economic woes linked to  low oil prices and Western sanctions. 

'Traditionally, Russia did not have close relations with Ireland, but the historical roots of contacts between Russia and Scotland are quite deep, since the times of Ivan the Terrible,' he said. 

'Scots are warriors, they fought for those who paid them. They invented whisky and taught the world to drink. It's a northern country, very similar to our's. People are also quite similar - hard-faced at first sight, and the Scots drink just as much as the Russians. But once you get to chat with them, they open up. They are spirited people.

'To me, Scotland is kilts, whisky, ales, bagpipes - and a freedom-loving people. It's the only state which became a member of the United Kingdom voluntarily so they have the moral right to leave it if they want to.' Haggis, he says, is 'mince in a sheep's stomach which is actually a very common meal across Asia'.

Scottish pubs in Siberia


Scottish pubs in Siberia

'Scots are warriors, they fought for those who paid them. They invented whisky and taught the world to drink. It's a northern country, very similar to our's.' Pictures: Gordon's

Gordon's Bar - and also Scottish Pub Gordon's in a nearby city  - are named after his hero. 'Patrick Gordon was military tutor to Peter the Great,' he said. 'He lived in Russia for over 30 years, settled down, and had a son who also served Russia with honour. Peter was at his death bed and went to his funeral and it's believed that he said: 'I gave you a handful of dirt, and you gave me Russia'. 

'Gordon played a huge role in Russia's Azov campaign in 1695-1696 against the Ottoman Empire, the first major achievement of the young ruler, and had a great impact on Peter as a military strategist. We have even set up a monument to Patrick Gordon in front of the entrance.' 

He admitted: 'Obviously, we adapt Scottish traditions. Gordon's is a music pub which is not quite typical for Scotland. 

'That's because the owners and management have been into music since university years. We're bigger than typical Scottish pubs and do all sorts of meals which is also very unlikely for Scottish, English and Irish pubs where, especially in the evenings, you can't find much more than fish and chips.

Scottish pubs in Siberia


Scottish pubs in Siberia

'We only feel support from our guests not the authorities. Despite all the odds, our guests come to spend time at our pub.' Pictures: Gordon's, Geometria

'Before opening the pub, we went to Edinburgh where we only visited pubs. We got inspired and tried to reconstruct the interior of a Scottish pub at the edge of 18th and 19th centuries.'

He said: 'We use Scottish patterns and bagpipe, which is actually a military musical instrument, in decoration of the pubs.' Economic problems are having a direct impact on clients' spending power, while also raising the cost of imported spirits and ales. 

'The crisis has already had an enormous impact on business,' said Mr Gutkin. 'We can see huge losses in terms of the number of guests and profit. Although people are earning pretty much the same, the prices went up considerably. 

'That means that purchasing power of the public dropped dramatically. People are cutting down their expenses and obviously this starts with leisure and entertainment, bars, pubs and restaurants in first place.

'Besides, we're in the middle-price segment and in times of a crisis this segment is affected the most since the low-cost end remains the same and the high-end doesn't need to worry. Over the past year and a half prices on alcohol including whiskies have doubled, tripled, some have even grown in price by six times. The change is titanic and there is no end to it.'

Scottish pubs in Siberia


Scottish pubs in Siberia

'Over the past year and a half prices on alcohol including whiskies have doubled, tripled, some have even grown in price by six times. The change is titanic and there is no end to it.' Pictures: Gordon's, Blackwood

Locals in the land of vodka have taken to whisky, he said. 'Vodka and whisky are totally different drinks. Whisky is a drink of a mood, you can select a whisky according to your mood - cheerful, heavy. There are smokey whiskies, and you can't have a lot of it. 

'The quality of vodka depends on the snacks you have with it, and the people you're drinking with. Another difference is the scent, you don't get a headache after having some whisky. Whisky is a very interesting drink.'

'Scotland is kilts, whisky, ales, bagpipe and freedom-loving people. It's the only state which became a member of the United Kingdom voluntarily so they have the moral right to leave it if they want to.' 

'Scotland is a northern country, it's cuisine is not very rich and was influenced a lot by French and Scandinavian cuisine. Let's take Haggis, a traditional dish. What is it? It's minced sheep's stomach which is actually a very common meal across Asia.'

Scottish pubs in Siberia


Scottish pubs in Siberia

'Vodka and whisky are totally different drinks. Whisky is a drink of a mood, you can select a whisky according to your mood - cheerful, heavy.' Pictures: MacLeod, Geometria

Olga Chikhun added: 'Obviously, crisis has affected us. All our beer is imported, and prices go up while wages don't. There are new official regulations and it all requires extra expenses to implement them. 

'We only feel support from our guests not the authorities. Despite all the odds, our guests come to spend time at our pub. We have never had Scottish guests. They would be welcome. From Scotland so far, we only have whisky.'

Alisa Khabibulina, 29, is manager of MacLeod Scottish Music Pub, at Berezniki in Perm region, an area better known for gulags in Stalin times. 'Real Scots have been here, too, and posted messages expressing surprise there is a remote pub like this in Perm region,' she said.

Scottish pubs in Siberia

'To me, Scotland is kilts, whisky, ales, bagpipes - and a freedom-loving people.' Picture: MacLeod

'They were pleasantly surprised with the food, drinks, music and gigs at MacLeod. On Fridays and Saturdays we have live music, sometimes we host gigs and have Scottish dance performances, for example.

'Whisky is a lot more pleasant to drink than vodka. You can savour the taste and it can be very different,' she said. 'Vodka is pretty much the same everywhere and there is nothing exciting about it. You just drink it and have a snack with it. 

'Perhaps, whisky is partly popular because it's fashionable, it's quite new for Russia but the world has been drinking it for centuries. It's a sort of standard for a real man, whether you are a highlander or a businessman.'

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