ARAGVI, THE LEGENDARY HAUNT OF KGB AGENTS, RE-OPENS IN MOSCOW
What do the KGB, Leo Tolstoy, a Georgian river and grilled chicken have in common? Evidently, a restaurant on Tverskaya Street in Moscow.
Housed in a former hotel where Tolstoy (along with Pushkin and Chekhov) once stayed, the spot was converted in a restaurant in 1938, named Aragvi after a river in Georgia that flows through the Caucasus Mountains. The restaurant was famed for its excellent food, including Aragvi Chicken, grilled with nuts and garlic, and it also hid a sinister side, being the favourite hangout for KGB spies for both pleasure and professional pastimes. Aragvi, in fact, was a KGB initiative by Stalin’s security chief Lavrenty Beria. Featured in Soviet-era literature and films, Aragvi was a byword for luxury, where a single meal cost an average month’s wage, though the privilege of dining alongside artists, cosmonauts, filmmaker, chess champions and heroes of the revolution was undeniable.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led the state-owned restaurant to be privatised, changing hands several times before shuttering in 2003. But it has now re-opened again, after a US$20 million refurbishment by Gor Nakhapetyan and the Tashir Group, with a mission to ‘revive nostalgia for a bygone era’.
Preserving as much of the building’s 17th century masonry where possible, the new Aragvi is a bright, breezy space of white plaster and bricks, with peeps of original walls and arch ceilings, along with mosaic decoration. A wine cellar built by Prince Golitsyn now serves as a delicatessen, while the bar still retains some of the espionage intrigue of the Cold War. The food remains true to the cuisine of the Caucasus that defined the original – such as khinkali dumplings and kachapuri (bread topped with cheese) – with some non-Georgian additions like borscht and Black Sea herring pate. So tuck in and be merry with abandon, because this time around there are not wiretaps installed under the table.