Luxuo - A chic restaurant where spies exchange secrets and plans under the cover of shady lighting seems like something out of a spy novel but apparently it is not too far away from the truth. The Aragvi restaurant in Moscow’s Tverskaya street opened at the height of Stalin’s bloody reign way back in 1938, and was a high-end eatery frequented by the KGB and other well heeled Soviet Comrades, including cosmonauts, filmmakers, and chess champions. Although it closed down in 2003, the restaurant is now being relaunched under its original name after a hefty $20 million restoration.
Aragvi opened on the initiative of Stalin’s notorious security chief Lavrenty Beria for the use of officials from his NKVD agency, the Soviet secret service later renamed the KGB. It specialized in Georgian dishes (Stalin himself was an ethnic Georgian) that soon became the talk of the town. This came at quite a cost though in the tightly controlled economy of the Soviet Union, as diners had to pay one-tenth of the average monthly wage to have the opportunity to eat alongside the usual suspects who broke bread there.
The KGB used the spot as a hangout to recruit agents and wired the place up with hidden microphones. Mikhail Lyubimov, who headed the KGB’s operations against Britain and Scandinavian countries, noted that Aragvi was “the favorite place to recruit agents and for farewell parties for agents going abroad”. He also added that the front-of-house staff were mainly retired KGB officials.
The restaurant was even immortalized in Soviet literature and featured in films. The poet Sergei Mikhalkov came up with the lyrics of the new Soviet national anthem while eating there. In fact, the very name of the restaurant has a literary root – being named after a Georgian river located inside a former hotel where Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov once stayed. All of this adds up to quite a large legacy.