A Restaurant Legend
Café Pushkin is one of Moscow’s legends. The restaurant opened on June 4, 1999 – although many people are sure it has always been there.
In the 1780s, a St. Petersburg nobleman in the service of Empress Catherine the Great retired from the Royal Household and moved to Moscow. There he decided to build a house and invited architects from Italy. Well-versed in Russian taste and with a keenly honed feeling for Muscovite architectural style, the Italians built a baronial Baroque mansion a la russe. Baroque details run throughout the interiors of the building. The house passed to a German aristocrat in the middle of the 19th century as part of his future wife’s dowry. Yet financial ruin forced the new owner to open a pharmacy in the building. To this end, the building was replanned:
• the pharmacy was situated on the ground floor. The pharmacy counter was lined with various phials containing medicines and potions.
• a library full of reference books was installed on the upper and mezzanine floors
In those days, the customers of the pharmacy could drink restorative beverages, teas, coffee, or hot chocolate while waiting for their medicines to be prepared. Thus a small café appeared on the ground floor of the building.
The tastes, enthusiasms and occupations of the owners have all left their mark on the building’s appearance. The surviving mirror, the stucco-work around the walls and ceilings, a cast-iron grille, and the paintings on the ceilings are all reminders of the first owner. The subjects for these ceiling paintings were taken from classical mythology: Leda and the Swan, the god Apollo and the Muses, Pegasus and Perseus, and Athena with Aphrodite. The objets d’art from the 19th century lend a special atmosphere to this mansion.
The mahogany grandfather clock (from the turn of the C18th-C19th) is a masterpiece of English clockmaking of the ‘Norton’ company, while there are barometers, and an escritoire from the C18th. There are bronze copies of Egyptian statues dedicated to cats that exactly copy those to be found at the entrance to the British Museum in London. The engravings, globes, microscopes and telescopes hint strongly at the identity of their owner – a German with interests in science. His pharmacy counter has been beautifully preserved in its original state. Here we find a great number of original porcelain bottles bearing Latin inscriptions, used in the preparation of all kinds of medicinal powders, essences, and tinctures, with pharmaceutical scales.
There are also some later items that illustrate the technological progress of the twentieth century. They include a Latin-alphabet typewriter, a bouillotte, a soda syphon, a device for opening wine-bottles, chocolate-cups for hot chocolate, and a musical box.
The largest item of interest is the extensive library, with more than three thousand volumes. The books range from the C18th to the early C20th.
Russian literature is represented by Pushkin, Gogol, Belinsky, Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Leskov, Tolstoy, Fet, Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Chekhov, and Dostoevsky. There are a good many English books (Shakespeare, Dickens, Scott, Moore, Burns), works in French ((Rousseau, Diderot, Maupassant, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Abat Prevost) and Italian (Dante, Petrarch) – and as we may expect, in German (Goethe, Heine Schiller, Hegel). The Holy Bible is represented in many languages, as is the Holy Koran. There is a huge collection of reference works, including historical works, the Brockhaus and Efron encyclopaedias, and works on military history, medicine, mineralogy. The major literary, scientific and political periodicals – such as «Otechestvennye zapiski» (National Annals), «Artist» (Performing Artist)– are all here too.