If you have any interest at all in billiards or pool, it's worth discovering the Russian version while you're here. Called russky billiard or russkaya piramida, the game is played on a table much larger and thicker than a pool table, and with enormous cues. The balls, all one color, are nearly twice as big as pool balls, but the pockets are quite small, making it much harder to score the requisite 71 points. Up to four people can play at once. The game dates back to Peter the Great's time, when he brought back the billiard-table concept after his voyages to the West, and Russians adapted the game to their tastes. Long a game reserved for the elite, today it enjoys a much wider following, and the billiards bars around Moscow cater to all pocketbooks. Tables run between 250 and 750 rubles an hour depending on the establishment, and few but the most elite spots take reservations for tables. In addition to Russian billiards, most places offer tables and equipment for "American pool," English snooker, and French carambole.
Russians discovered bowling over the past decade, partly in thanks to the Coen brothers' film The Big Lebowski, a cult hit among Russian audiences. The country's first bowling alleys aimed at a decidedly different clientele from the pot-bellied, working-class crowd in the film. Bowling started in Moscow as a sort of polo for the new rich, with the impeccably buffed lanes costing upward of $100 an hour, and bowlers decked out in Prada and Versace. Today bowling has trickled down to a broader player base, with some serious bowlers mixed in with the after-work crowd and family parties. All alleys provide "disco bowling" at night, switching to black light and cranking up the music after 10pm or so. The following alleys are good choices:
- Bi-Ba-Bo: 9 Karmanitsky Pereulok (in courtyard across from John Bull Pub); tel. 495/937-4337; 600-1,500 rubles per hour per lane; www.bibabo.ru/home. Metro: Smolenskaya.
- Cosmic: 6 Prospekt Vernadskovo; tel. 495/644-4232. 400-1,100 rubles per hour; www.cosmik.ru. Metro: Universitet.
- Samolyot (Airplane): 14/1 Presnensky Val; tel. 495/234-1818; 1,000 rubles per hour per lane; www.samolet-bowling.ru. Metro: Krasnopresnenskaya.
- Sport Line Club: 21 Kozhevnicheskaya Ulitsa; tel. 495/959-7875; 1,000 rubles per hour per lane; www.sportline-club.ru. Metro: Paveletskaya.
- Vysotka: In the Stalin tower at 1 Kudrinskaya Ploshchad; tel. 499/152-6337; 900 rubles per hour; www.visotka-club.ru. Metro: Barrikadnaya.
Forget Las Vegas. Moscow sometimes looks like the gambling capital of the world, with slot machines available even in the airport for a quick pre-departure or post-arrival fix. The road into town is lined with casinos' flashing lights and neon facades, and most big hotels have a casino or at least a slots room. A post-Soviet phenomenon, it seems targeted at foreigners and elite Russians with time and money to blow. The Kremlin has ordered that casinos be moved out of Moscow and located in four regions across Russia, but the gambling lobby has been resisting the initiative, and it may take years to materialize. A glimpse at this over-the-top world can be fun, though minimum stakes are often quite high, and dress codes are enforced. Two well-established venues, which are safe and glitzy bets (though not cheap), are Metelitsa-Cherry Casino, 21 Novy Arbat (tel. 495/691-1170; noon-8am daily; metro: Smolenskaya); and Golden Palace, 15 3rd Yamskovo Polya (tel. 499/232-1515; daily 24 hr.; metro: Dinamo or Belorusskaya). There is also Shangri-La, 2 Pushkinsaya ploshad (tel. 495/650-6400; metro: Pushkinskaya).
The language barrier makes moviegoing a challenge for most visitors, though the Moscow International Film Festival, which takes place every even-numbered year in June and July, offers an often surprising repertoire of international films in their original languages. Also, the International Film Center (15 Druzhinnikovskaya Ulitsa; tel. 495/255-9292; Metro: Barrikadnaya or Krasnopresnenskaya) has a rich and varied schedule of movies from across borders and eras; you might luck into a silent film treasure from Sergei Eisenstein or a big-screen showing of West Side Story in English. Make sure that any English-language film you're interested in is subtitled, not voiced-over, which is common in Russia. If you're itching for a new Hollywood blockbuster in English, try Dome Cinema at Penta Olympic Renaissance Hotel (18 Olimpiisky Prospekt; tel. 495/931-9873; www.domecinema.ru; metro: Prospekt Mira). Many other big movie theaters also run English-language films in original sound once or several times a day. See The Moscow Times weekend edition or other English-language publications for weekly listings.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.