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In the 1920s, Soviet people wanted to have a rest like under the tsar
In the 1920s, Soviet people wanted to have a rest like under the tsar

Soviet leisure in the 1920s imitated tsarist times, except that the public of city establishments changed somewhat. And so - all the same theaters, taverns and dances.

"Everything is as before": the people want to rest, as under the kings

In 1921, the Soviet government recognized that War Communism had exhausted itself. The time has come for the NEP - a new economic policy and private initiative.

Leon Trotsky said then: "We released the market devil into the light." And the "devil" was not long in coming - he showed both bread and circuses. Immediately, old and new businessmen, "Nepmen", got down to business: they opened all kinds of shops, cooperative stores (even jewelry), hairdressers, bakeries, pastry shops, ateliers, markets, coffee shops … Goods returned in abundance, which they dreamed of in the Civil War - white bread, coffee, ice cream, cakes, even beer and champagne. What can we say about tobacco, game, dairy products, vegetables and herbs, sweets …

Even cocaine was sold in the markets, and it was bought by both bohemians and law enforcement officials. Clients rustled again and banknotes rustled in the hands of businessmen. On the signs and posters of entertainment establishments, their owners were happy to accurately display: "Everything is as before." That was almost the case.

The NEP did not differ much from the pre-revolutionary entertainment industry and catering. Of the fundamentally new - perhaps an extensive network of state canteens and kitchen factories (the same canteens, but better organized), and even workers and Komsomol clubs, in which they read lectures and poems, danced, played and gave concerts of amateur performances.

NEP era shop Also

With renewed vigor, cinemas, the most popular form of leisure among young people, began to operate: in 1925, a survey was conducted in Leningrad, and 75% of young respondents answered that they prefer cinema to all other entertainments. Foreign comedies ("Louis on the Hunt", "My Sleepwalking Daughter") were a great success, but by the end of the 1920s. and Soviet filmmakers began to shoot many successful films. The audience went to museums (especially museums of "noble life"), and theaters, and circuses.

The horses again delighted and despairing visitors to the hippodrome, legal and underground casinos and electrolyto were opened. The townspeople remembered about summer cottages - just like before the revolution, they rented houses or rooms in peasant huts in the countryside. Hunters took up guns, sportsmen took up dumbbells, street musicians took up guitars and accordions, well, and dancers … they just lacked music. In general, the NEP brought everything that was accustomed to even before the October coup.

Trading house "Passage", Leningrad, 1924 Plastic dance troupe, 1920s

Plastic dance troupe, 1920s. Source:

"The noise and din in this creepy lair": restaurant binge

As always and everywhere, in the USSR during the NEP years, restaurants, cafes and bars occupied a special place among entertainment. Already in 1922 Yesenin had a place to read poetry to prostitutes, and to fry alcohol with bandits. In Moscow, old taverns resumed their work and new ones were opened, the same thing happened since 1921 in other Soviet cities. By 1923, there were already 45 restaurants in Petrograd, and in fact more bars and coffee houses were opened. And the names are the most bourgeois - "Sanssouci", "Italy", "Palermo" … In Moscow the same thing - "Astoria" or, say, "Lame Joe".

In 1925 the emigrant Vasily Vitalievich Shulgin undertook a trip to the Soviet Union and walked with acquaintances along the streets of Kiev, Moscow and Leningrad. “Everything was as it was, but worse,” he said. There were still queues, prices were higher than before, people became poorer - this was felt everywhere and in everything. But islands of luxury were still found in the USSR. The Leningrad Gostiny Dvor testified to this: “Everything was here. And there were jewelry stores.

All sorts of rings, brooches shone with gold and stones. Obviously, the workers buy the peasant women, and the peasants buy the women workers. "“And icons are for sale,” wrote Shulgin, “in expensive vestments, and crosses, whatever you want. (…) There are also rental cars near the Gostiny. " “If only you have money, you can live well in the city of Lenin,” the emigrant concluded.

V Restaurant "Elephant" on Sadovaya, Leningrad, 1924

Shulgin also dropped into the entertainment establishments. Everything in the restaurant turned out to be very familiar: "The lackey, as in the old days, bowing respectfully and confidently, in a gentle bass persuaded him to take this or that, claiming that today" the villager is very good. " Even the menu, as under the tsar, was full of consommé, a la buffet and turbot. Shulgin and his companions ate vodka with caviar and salmon. They did not take champagne - it was expensive. In another restaurant there was a lottery, and Shulgin won a chocolate bar.

The bar also turned out to be all right: “The pub here was in full shape. A thousand and one tables, at which incredible personalities, sometimes idiotically belching, sometimes gloomily drunk-looking. The noise, the mess was desperate. (…) All sorts of young ladies were hanging around the tables, selling pies or themselves (…).

From time to time, a patrol passed through this drunken crowd, rifles in hand. " “If a Russian person wants to drink, then he has a place to go in Leningrad,” the interlocutor said. There was where to go and for the sake of gambling. A gambling house full of people greeted Shulgin with a cheerful noise. The crowd here was entertained by artists, singers and dancers. The guest from abroad was told that part of the taxes from such casinos goes to public education.

A couple having lunch in a restaurant, USSR, 1926 Banquet hall of the Evropeyskaya Hotel, Leningrad, 1924

The curtain of the booth closes and the end of the NEP

Shulgin did not go to the “dating house” - he didn’t like the casino either, and he wasn’t invited (and it’s clear what was there). It was noticeable that people under the Soviets were drawn to the usual joys, and the Bolsheviks had to put up with it - for now. The Napmans fulfilled their mission, brought revival to the economy destroyed by the war, and gradually the power began to clamp down on them.

In fact, restaurants were not for everyone from the start. Working people rarely ate there - a little expensive! The state imposed high taxes on the Nepmen, so that the proletariat was almost cut off from the "corrupting" influence of the petty bourgeois - and this is how entrepreneurs were represented in the newspapers. Therefore, the "bourgeois debauchery" of restaurants was enjoyed mainly by the Nepmen themselves and their employees. This is what the NEPman Leonid Dubrovsky recalled: “The income was poured to us from the NEPmen. We cut them. Our restaurants were too expensive for working people. According to the earnings of that time, they simply did not shine with us."

For a long time, the authorities could not stand the bourgeois spirit of the NEP in a socialist country. In 1928, attempts were made to force restaurateurs to proletarianize their establishments. For example, "Nikolaev cabbage soup" in the menu should henceforth be called "shchi from shredded cabbage", and "consomme royal" - "broth with milk scrambled eggs". Goodbye, grilled sturgeon and de-will cutlets!

But very soon restaurants began to close altogether. Strangled with taxes. The same fate befell other enterprises of the Nepmen, even hairdressing salons. Gradually, the state took over everything. By the beginning of the 1930s, almost nothing remained of the NEP - neither bourgeois revelry, nor twenty types of bread on the shelves, nor any kind of freedom.

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