VinoSyr is one of those places I walked by a thousand times before curiosity finally got the better of me. After innumerable passes, I finally stopped in my tracks and said, out loud, "I wonder just what exactly it is that goes on down there…" I don't know why it took me so long. The sign is eye-level and inviting enough. And like everybody I like wine and cheese. But for some reason I just never went in. Maybe it's a primordial fear of caves, of walking down strange stairs in the relative dark.
The first time I ever passed VinoSyr was probably my first week in Moscow, back in late 2006, when I made my maiden voyage to the nearby European Medical Center to get a suspicious pink splotch on my upper thigh checked out. It was a memorable first visit to the neighborhood. For 7,000 roubles, a kindly Frenchman informed me had jock itch and recommend I change my underwear more often. Had I known about VinoSyr and self-diagnosed myself accurately, I could have spent that money a lot better on a long grapy night in the wine bar around the corner.
Located just under the arch at Pushkinkaya and diagonally across from Scandanavia, VinoSyr is a rare bird in this town: an extremely chill and affordable wine and cheese bar. Which is exactly as owner and resident wine expert Anatoly Sokolov intended it. "The philosophy here is to provide wines with the best quality-to-price ratio," he told me on a recent visit. "This is why we stock mostly Spanish wines, which tend to be the best for the price. We also have a lot of Italian labels."
A bottle at VinoSyr starts at around 600r and scales up to 4,000r. Altogether there are 150 wines stacked in the state of the art climate-controlled cellar. For people looking to learn more about wine, low-key tastings will be scheduled starting this spring.
The food menu also tilts heavily in the direction of Spain. Cheese platters (230 – 350r) and meat plates (380r) featuring jamon will keep a party of two busy nibbling while they drain their bottle. Also recommended are the bowls of delicious jumbo Spanish olives and plates of flattened red peppers. Dishes of honey come with the stinkier blue cheeses, which Sokolov says adds to the cheese's texture, which it does. But personally I like the way it makes blue cheese taste more like honey, and less like stinky blue cheese, a taste I still haven't acquired and doubt I ever will.
Along with the prices, the de'cor at VinoSyr is another aspect of the place that is refreshing in this town. It's classy and low-key, with wine labels plastered on walls and exposed leaking water pipes encased in glass incorporated into the design. In case your date bores you to death or you just get tired of talking, soundless plasma screens show films worth looking at, from nature documentary fare like Baraka and Migration, to the silent-era films of Charlie Chaplin and the early French experimentalists. The stereo usually spills forth mellow Spanish vocal music. Until, that is, the inimitable bow-tied Valentin Baklanov cranks up his keyboard and lays down recorded bass and drum lines. Boklanov is a well-respected Russian jazz pianist who has been around a few blocks. His virtual trio plays most weeknights. Tips and requests are encouraged; throwing olives is not.
Whetever's going on in the background at VinoSyr, it's always possible to hear yourself. When the eXile finally gets around to publishing an annual "Best of Moscow" issue, VinoSyr will probably get "Best Place to Have a Good Conversation and a Good Bottle of Wine Without Sliding into "Cheesy Intimate" Territory or Spending Your Entire Paycheck."
In other words, this is a cozy and recommended date spot. If there is any chemistry at all between two people, it is hard to imagine a two- or three-bottle night at VinoSyr not leading back to the nearest bedroom. If that first date should result in a suspicious splotch on your inner thigh, you can always get it checked out on the way to your second VinoSyr date. The EMC is just around the corner.