The first thing you’ll see when you enter Literary Cafe is a giant taxidermy bear. The next thing you’ll notice is another immortalized icon of Russian culture: an eerily life-like wax figure of Aleksandr Pushkin. It was here that he took his last drink—a fresh-squeezed lemonade, it’s said—before setting out to a fatal duel in 1837. Of course, it was over a woman. Today, his wax likeness sits by the window in front of his final drink, ruminating the next line he would never write.
Pushkin wouldn’t have been the lone icon who patronized the spot in the 1800s. Before the Literary Cafe was known as such, it was a confectionery shop that drew figures of such cultural magnitude as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Feodor Chaliapin. Its location in the heart of St. Petersburg made it the place to see and be seen.
Today, the two-story restaurant celebrates its role in the arts scene of old by maintaining an air of imperial aristocracy, from the crystal chandeliers to the white-gloved servers to the high-end Russian-French cuisine. Diners can choose from the “Poet’s Menu,” a collection of Pushkin’s allegedly favorite orders, including schi (a stuffed cabbage soup), pozharsky (breaded chicken breast with cranberry sauce), and a dessert of stuffed prunes with vanilla-stewed apples and vanilla ice cream. True to its heritage, the price would suit the salary of most writers; the “Poet’s Menu” will only set you back about ₽1,600 ($25 USD).
The upper floor features more white-cloth tables as well as a pearl grand piano, which is accompanied by an accordion, trumpet, and a bassoon each Sunday for an evening of live music. It wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your waltz before stepping into this living time capsule.