Travel
3 min

Inside the gay club scene in St Petersburg, Russia

Despite Russia’s anti-gay laws, St Petersburg maintains a lively, varied nightlife

A DJ at Tri El, St Petersburg’s oldest and largest lesbian club. Credit: Julia Lisnyak

While travel to Russia may seem ill-advised to many gay people right now, St Petersburg has a surprisingly warm and vibrant club scene for those who dare make the journey. In fact, the city is known as the gay capital of Russia, and its diverse nightlife offers a venue to suit most LGBT travellers’ tastes.

The city’s largest gay club, Central Station, is always bustling with activityLocated in the heart of the club district, Central Station is open seven days a week, almost 24 hours per day, drawing a sophisticated crowd, mostly consisting of men aged 25 to 40. Wait-staff, elegantly clad in white shirts and red bow ties, are uncharacteristically friendly by Russian customer-service standards. Music varies from Russian pop to shows from international DJs.

The Blue Oyster and Priscilla Bar are two clubs located in the same building. Open daily, the clubs attract a younger, more alternative clientele. Drinks are cheaper and the crowd gets rowdier. One of its dancefloors is usually dedicated to trance. There is also a fairly quiet lounge area, where members of the city’s LGBT activist community can be found on many weekend nights.

Despite the club’s more down-to-earth atmosphere and relaxed dress code, “face control” is tight. While entrance for men is free, women must be accompanied by at least two men. The club has a darkroom maze.

Malevich, a small club located just off the city centre, is St Petersburg’s friendliest queer hangout. Hidden in a dark courtyard behind Moskovskye Vorota subway station, it can be hard to find and therefore attracts a select crowd of laid-back, politically active folks. There is a small cover — 300 rubles for all genders — but drinks are inexpensive. Malevich is open Wednesday to Sunday and hosts a drag show with a political bent. Although the dancefloor is small, the crowd is lively.

Malevich fills a unique niche in the city’s club scene, catering to people who are looking for a sense of community and an opportunity to try their hand at a new hobby or craft. On weeknights, it hosts a variety of classes, including boxing, tango and singing. Starting at 7pm on some evenings, guests can come in for a quiet evening of board games, crafts or a film screening.

The same dark courtyard is home to Tri El, St Petersburg’s oldest and largest lesbian club. An open-concept venue, the club has two bars, a large dancefloor, a stage where talent shows are performed, and a cordoned-off VIP area overlooking the space.

This club is a favourite for all ages and styles. Open Wednesdays and Friday through Sunday, it fills up at around 1am and stays packed until it closes at 6am. Cover charge is 300 rubles. Men are allowed in, for 700 rubles, if accompanied by women, but there are usually very few in the crowd. Although the atmosphere is warm and welcoming and unfamiliar faces can expect an enthusiastic reception, the music is very loud, so carrying on a conversation can be tough.

Another popular lesbian hangout, Infiniti, is located near the city centre, steps away from the central train station. Smaller and more exclusive, this club attracts a young and trendy crowd. Music varies from Russian pop to drum and bass, and themed parties are held frequently. There are three rooms: a karaoke section, a dance space and a lounge. Guests can reserve a VIP table in the lounge and sample Russian cuisine. Cover for women ranges from 200 to 400 rubles, depending on the DJ. Men can enter only by special request. On weeknights, the club hosts film screenings and other events.

For older male travellers, Cabaret, the oldest gay club in St Petersburg, is the place to be. The large, two-floor space has a campy, Soviet feel; in Soviet times, the space was a casino and the décor has been preserved. It is located downtown, just off Ligovsky Prospekt, and is open Friday through Sunday. The crowd is mostly 30-plus. The club is known for its professional drag show, reminiscent of an old-fashioned cabaret, and boasts a large dancefloor and a lounge area. Although entry for women is pricier on Friday and Saturdays, 500 rubles as opposed to 300, on Sundays anyone can enter for 150 rubles. On weekdays, the club’s restaurant is open until 11pm.

The most sexually adventurous travellers may want to check out Bunker. Hidden away in an enormous courtyard on the Fontanka River, this venue is the “it” place for quick intimate encounters. It has a small bar and lounge and a darkroom with an extensive maze. The darkroom is furnished with swings and other fetish installations. The space is open daily, from 4pm to 6am. Cover is 350 rubles on weeknights and 400 on weekends.

Where to find the clubs

Central Station
Ulitsa Lomonosova 1, metro Gostiny Dvor

Blue Oyster
Ulitsa Lomonosova 1, metro Gostiny Dvor

Malevich
Moskovsky Prospekt 109/3, metro Moskovskiye Vorota

Tri El
Moskovsky Prospekt 109, metro Moskovskiye Vorota

Infiniti
Poltavskaya Ulitsa 7, metro Ploschad Vosstaniya

Cabaret
Ulitsa Razyezzhaya 43, metro Ligovsky Prospekt

Bunker
Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanky 90, korpus 7, metro Pushkinskaya