The Nazi's 900-day siege of Leningrad almost decimated the city, but now St. Petersburg is turning to Berlin as a model for building a post-imperial, post-communist city fueled by creative industries, a trend apparent in the art clusters that are popping up around the city. Some city officials are so enthusiastic about the art cluster concept that they have suggested turning the Kresty prison into one, after its scheduled move to more modern facilities.
The first in the wave is Loft Project Etagi, on Ligovsky Prospekt not far from the main Moskovsky train station, where it occupies 32,000 square feet over five floors of a former bread factory. The venue includes exhibition spaces, a hipster cafe that wouldn't be out of place in an American college town, a hostel, a bar called Sever (North) that opened in late 2012 in a former factory refrigeration unit, and a new pop-up restaurant project.
Tkachi, on Obvodny canal nearby, is in a renovated textile plant that now looks and feels more like a hipster shopping mall, with showrooms selling sunglasses, comics, backpacks and Apple accessories, and an art space on the top floor.
At 10 Millionnaya Ulitsa, near the Hermitage, workmen and hipsters wander through the courtyards and corridors of Architector, in a building by 19th century architect Andrei Stackenschneider, known also for the 10 palaces he built around the city. Architektor is already filling up with trendy vintage boutiques, a bicycle shop, cafe and a bar called Stackenschneider.
Near St. Isaac's, the Chetvert art cluster on Pereulok Pirogova 18 occupies a dead end with stray cats and palatial interiors in a state of decadent ruin. Vintage fashion showrooms, a bookstore, flower shop and Vedic cooking master classes were among the offerings on a recent day. Aperto Gallery, founded last year, is promoting Russian and international contemporary art.
Farther afield, near the Chkalovskaya metro station in northwestern St. Petersburg, the former Krasnoye Znamya factory, a constructivist landmark, has been hosting art events, including a graffiti festival this summer.
Head for dinner at Jamie Oliver's first restaurant in Russia, Jamie's Italian, which opened recently on Konnyushennaya Square between the Hermitage and Russian museums. The British chef's restaurant was opened in partnership with Ginza Project, a St. Petersburg-based restauranteur that has also brought the Russian restaurant Mari Vanna to London and New York.
Soon, visitors will be lining up to stay at the new Four Seasons Lion Palace, in a restored pre-revolutionary palace next door to St. Isaac's Cathedral. The palace, owned by the Russian presidential administration, has been meticulously restored where possible, with marble and wood finishings, gold leaf trim, custom furniture, and rooms with views of the cathedral and the Admiralty. The Xander Bar is named after Czar Alexander I. The hotel will be fully open, with a four-level spa, by the end of the year.