In Soviet Moscow, if you wanted to eat chicken, drink wine—and, possibly, recruit a fellow KGB member, —Aragvi, a Georgian restaurant in the heart of the city, was the place to go. Today, if you want to do two of those three things, you might also consider it. After fifteen years, the dining room’s doors recently opened once again, to a slightly less flavorful clientele, Agence France-Presse reports,
Aragvi first opened in 1938, at the request of Stalin’s right-hand man, Lavrentiy Beria. Beria had recently been appointed the new head of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB), and wanted a place to plan and hold meetings. Beria and Stalin both grew up Georgian, and their childhood cuisine wasn’t available anywhere in Moscow—and so Aragvi put together a high-class menu of khinkali (dumplings), khachapuri (cheesy bread), and satsivi (cold chicken in nut sauce).
In the decades after it opened, the restaurant was a hotbed of local bohemians, foreign luminaries, and government spies. The dining rooms were wired with hidden microphones, and recruiters vetted prospective new members over wine and dumplings. ”The front-of-house staff there were mainly retired KGB officers,” Mikhail Lyubimov, once one of those officers, told AFP.
Spy or star, everyone who dined there was rich. In the restaurant’s heyday, “dropping a mention of the famous Aragvi chicken—which was grilled with nuts and garlic—gained you entry into the creme de la creme of society,” former patron Nelli Maximova told AFP. Ingredients for that dish were delivered from Georgia via special train carriage.
When the Soviet Union fell, it took Aragvi’s fortunes with it. The restaurant was privatized, but it struggled to make ends meet, and closed down in 2003. It reopened last month and, according to The Moscow Times, modern-day diners can expect a unique sense of history, tasteful throwback decor, and, of course, dumplings—still delicious, but slightly less spiced with intrigue.
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