Does the unexpected closure of a nightlife staple known as a place for “gentlemen” to pick up “professional” ladies, suggest that women in the Russian capital have been liberated enough to stop sleazy foreigners from running amok?
On the last day of March, one of Moscow’s oldest – and most questionable – expat haunts, Night Flight, locked shut its heavily mirrored doors for the first time since they opened in 1991. The club was founded around the time of the Soviet collapse by Swedish businessmen Sonny Lundkvist and Hokan Polhammar, alongside their Russian partner Yury Giverts. It occupied a prime spot on Tverskaya Street, just a stone’s throw away from Pushkin Square and a mere 300 meters from Red Square.
It was almost 30 years ago when Night Flight first sprang to life, just as Russian society entered a period of turbulence and uncertainty. In a 2016 interview with the now-defunct Moscow ‘Expat Life’ journal, founding partner Giverts explained how “the biggest problem was when we started to create our own product. At that time, the shops were totally empty. The Swedish partners had to bring everything in to build the club. I mean EVERYTHING – glasses, porcelain, candles, toothpicks, screws, wallpaper, EVERYTHING.”
“Of course, we also had to bring in normal alcohol, which was authentic and not criminally produced,” he continued. “This all came in on several trucks and arrived on the 15th of August 1991.” Trucks carrying Swedish produce would keep arriving until the middle of the ‘90s, to combat the shortage of supplies and the empty shelves that were a common sight in supermarkets.
In August 1991, the owners of Night Flight witnessed a procession of tanks rolling down the street outside their fledgling club as an attempt was made to remove President Mikhail Gorbachev from power. Although both Gorbachev and the club survived the attempted coup, only one of them made it past December of that year. It was thus that Night Flight was born of caterpillar tracks and imported Swedish meatballs.
The club soon made a name for itself amongst Moscow’s elite expatriate community and the nouveau riche. Tales of drinks being paid for with everything from dollars to kroner and yen highlights the international flavor of the audience in attendance. “For every slow dance, future oligarchs would throw 100-dollar bills to the girls behind the tables. People on the streets were genuinely amazed and happy to see foreigners, and Stockholm, in comparison to giant Moscow, seemed like an alley,” said the club’s general manager, Swede Mats Jansson – who was in charge of security in the ‘90s – in a 2014 interview with Afisha Magazine.
Night Flight was geared towards the expat community in more ways than one. It not only sported a Scandinavian-style restaurant and main bar with a list of recognisable cocktails, but also a VIP lounge and a small disco bar where one could meet, as the website My Guide Moscow put it, “a stunning array of local beauties all dressed to thrill and eager to engage you in Russian or English.”
The aforementioned “local beauties” are perhaps the most controversial aspect of Night Flight’s popularity. In a 2016 article by Russia Beyond, Jansson is again quoted as saying, “In the beginning of the 1990s, meeting a foreigner was like winning the lottery.” He went on to admit that 99 percent of the girls who came to Night Flight were “professionals.” The catch was that the prostitutes did not physically work in the club, as there were no private rooms; they arrived just like any other guest and were also charged the rather expensive entry fee. What they did outside of the club did “not concern the management,” making it a completely legal venue.
One does not have to look far to find evidence of why the club’s slogans were “quite simply the best place to be” and “do it tonight…” Do what tonight, you may wonder? Well, TripAdvisor offers a trove of experiences that leaves little to the imagination. The reviewers openly hint towards the real reason why much of Moscow’s male expat population has ‘graced’ the place.
Russia Beyond deemed the club a “tsardom of prostitutes,” and more than one review on TripAdvisor referred to it as Moscow’s main “brothel.” As coyly stated by a patron from Colombia, “one thing’s for sure. You don’t want to go there for eating.” So, what do you want to go there for? The resounding answer is unsurprising: for the “millions of mostly attractive young Russian girls,” as Jean-Claude C put it.
Of the 60 reviews that were left on Night Flight’s TripAdvisor page, there was only one comment posted by a female foreigner. The remainder of the observations were from men who left tips like, “it’s coated as a dating place but you get the idea when she tells you the hourly rate,” and “an establishment where the food – let’s say – is not the priority, more intended for gentlemen looking to take late-night entertainment back to their hotels.”
Upon scrolling through these pages, it is not difficult to imagine what is truly meant by the tantalizing prospect of “do(ing) it tonight.”
Amongst the sea of salivating gentlemen, you can find one glowing review left by Linda from Canada on the website local-life.com, recalling: “Me and my husband went to Night Flight in late September of 2011. The place is known for catering to gents, but both of us had fantastic time… The girls that hang out at Night Flight are ALL absolutely gorgeous, model material. One named Olga looked like Rebecca Romijn in her best times, I am not kidding. And I am a woman, even I was impressed.”
Okay, Linda! While this was a rare breath of female perspective, the tone was almost identical to that of her male counterparts, and she did not stray far from the overriding theme of blatant objectification. The suffocating sense of the male gaze was the vibe that permeated throughout the archives of online commentary, as well as across the dancefloor in the club.
Night Flight was less than a year short of reaching 30 when it closed down unexpectedly this March, perhaps signaling a change in the levels of toxic masculinity that are present within most of the predominantly male expat community here in Moscow. In this sense, the end of Moscow’s “wildest” party could be argued as being a sign of the steadily increasing trend of liberated women who no longer feel like they need to sell themselves (in any sense of the word) to achieve financial independence.
Unfortunately, it was most likely to do with the fact that the razor-thin margins of the business couldn’t withstand a lockdown and the subsequent reality of our Covid economy.
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