Korobok – A bar in a matchbox, an explosive mix
Moscow isn’t short of cocktail bars and my wish list was accordingly long. You can find old bar dinosaurs, newbies and trendy pop ups. No matter whether you like your drink classic or experimental you will find the right drinking den, and by saying “find”, I mean that literally. Bar visits are an exciting hide and seek game.
I travelled to Russia in September for the first time. I was very excited and honestly, a bit anxious. This feeling faded very quickly and I was blown away by the skyline of this city. When I arrived in the city centre it was almost surreal. The buildings were massive, the traffic insane and in-between you see those colourful and picturesque onion domes.
My nice affordable hostel was right in the historical centre of Moscow. I checked in and it was time to have a look behind the first secret door just a few metres away from my hostel in Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street. There is a tiny name plate next to the main entrance of the Tehnikum restaurant that indicates a bar. You can use the door of the restaurant or another entrance straight down to the basement. A door with the sign “Staff only” is the right door to use to enter an exotic and slightly sinful drinking den. Only a few places and the size of a matchbox, just as the name of the bar, Коробок, means in English.
This place is a matchbox. The matchsticks burn your taste buds with a delightful explosion.
I felt like I was going back to colonial times somewhere in Indochina due to the dark and heavy décor, the music, the atmosphere, and the bartenders dressed in Asian jackets. It is a mix of a cosy Chinese opium den and a pharmacy. You can find many apothecary bottles and flasks with aromas made in their in-house lab. The place belongs to the White Rabbit Family, a Russian restaurant holding, so no wonder the lab is well equipped.
The huge wooden closet hosts all the spirits and bottles but the centrepiece is a huge bar table which the guests sit round. Unfortunately, the places were all occupied. I must have looked a bit desperate because I was allowed to stand at the table right next to the very handsome bartenders. Not too bad, I would say. There was no menu, there were just great recommendations instead. They have simple glassware, a spirit and a spray. The spray provides an additional aroma, no zests used here. A very minimalistic approach with a lot of work behind it. I was very pleased, and had a wonderful conversation with a cocktail enthusiast right next to me and with the bartenders.
This place is full of charm and a perfect combination of atmosphere, music and mixology.
I met Evgeniy Shashin, the chief-bartender at “Korobok”. Some say that he is one of the most skilled bartenders in Russia. For me he was such a perfect host, polite and humble. By the way, we met a second time in front of the toilet in the Sapsan train on our way to St. Petersburg. He recognised me immediately which, to me, is an extra indicator of real hospitality.
Let’s have a look at what was in my glasses. As I am a big fan of Greenpoint, the libation of a Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Chartreuse and tic tac perfume suited me very well. Indeed, they have created a tic tac spray. The aromas are inspired by Russian nature, by spices and by tic tacs. A cup of tea would suit the atmosphere very well, I said. As a result, I got a beautiful cup with a clear chunk of ice and a Caol Ila Whisky based drink. Delicious.
Have you ever tried a Clear Negroni? The classic Negroni was invented in the 20s and it is red in colour. At Korobok the Negroni is clear and topped with a square red jelly. The drink is called 2 Negroni because both components are Negronis. They redistill campari and sweet vermouth and get “negroni” spirit. This spirit together with some sweet vermouth is the clear Negroni. From the reduction of campari and vermouth the candy is made. The eyes drink first. The artfulness of the beautifully executed drink excites before it runs down your palate.
I would never have expected such a warm welcome and communicative people. At this point it was time to shake off my old prejudices about Russians not being friendly and uncool and that they only drink vodka. My first night out in Moscow couldn’t have been better.
Visit Korobok– Some pictures of this post were provided by Evgeniy Shashin. Thank you 🙂