Get a taste of Russia -- and Russian vodka -- at Red Square Restaurant

ON NIGHTLIFE

January 25, 2007|By SAM SESSA

Red Square Restaurant and Lounge is the real Russian experience.

With its semi-tacky decor, weird vodka shots and performers singing stale pop songs, this restaurant and bar in the Belvedere's basement is exactly what I imagine a Moscow club looks like.

A decorative fountain with no running water sits by the entrance. The main dining room and bar area is pretty large, with a dance floor and a small stage. Most of the walls are unsurprisingly done in red hues, and a panoramic photo of Red Square is above the bar.

To top it off, a huge vodka bottle shaped like an assault rifle hangs on the wall behind the bar. Another one shaped like a sword sits on a ledge above it.

As if the atmosphere were not bewildering enough, one of the singers started off the live performance by saying something like:

"Welcome to Red Square -- the only Russian restaurant in Baltimore County!"

Confusing, I know.

Since the coat check was $2 each, my friends and I just laid our hats and coats on an empty barstool and looked at the drink list. We didn't see any beers on tap, but Red Square has a few different kinds of Baltika beer, which is Europe's second-largest brewery.

Baltika beers are numbered instead of named, and the higher the number, the higher the alcohol content. I started with a No. 5, a smooth, gold lager. Later, I had a No. 6, which was more along the lines of a porter, but still not too heavy.

Halfway through the first round of beer, my friend Andrew and I decided a shot of vodka was in order. After all, you can't leave a Russian restaurant without trying the country's most famous liquor. And Red Square's vodka list is fully loaded, with everything from Smirnoff to brands we'd never heard of.

Shots cost $6 to $9. We decided to try the cheap ones -- some of which came flavored with odd ingredients like horseradish or pepper and garlic.

Andrew (warily) and I (enthusiastically) settled on a shot each of garlic pepper vodka. When the bartender brought me my shot, I cringed. It was colored dirty brown and smelled like the inside of a trash can -- a fair warning of what we were in for.

So how was it? You know those puddles of oily water that pool between the curb and the edge of the street? Taking this shot felt like slurping down one of those. I almost wretched.

Baltika beer couldn't wash away the aftertaste, either. It was like I'd set off a stink-bomb in my mouth -- only time would make it go away. Andrew shared my pain. Our dates, meanwhile, sipped their mixed drinks and giggled at our misfortune.

My girlfriend Amie ordered a sangria, which was light and didn't taste too alcoholic. It cost about $6 and came with a cherry, chopped apple and orange chunks.

Andrew's girlfriend Amy ordered a $10 cosmopolitan. The first time the bartender made Amy's cosmo, it started fizzing, so he dumped it out and started over. The second time, he got it right -- down to the lime wedge on the rim.

Live music started about 10:30 p.m. There must have been some technical problems with the sound system before that, because there had been no background music at all. Three performers with pretty good voices took turns singing over backing tracks. More and more people got on the dance floor as the night progressed.

We were treated to some American pop songs from five to 10 years ago -- "Smooth" by Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas and "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys -- and some Russian songs I'd never heard before.

A good portion of the crowd appeared to be Russians in their 20s and 30s. By 11 p.m., the dance floor was starting to fill up, and the performers were going full speed. I got the feeling that on the right night, this place gets packed and wild.

Even though last Friday wasn't that crazy, Red Square was still a fun break from an ordinary night out.

Correction

Wanted to clear something up -- in a previous column, I identified Liam Flynn as the owner of Liam's Pint Size Pub. He's actually the bar manager.

Red Square Restaurant and Lounge is in the Belvedere, at 1023 N. Charles St. For more information, call 410-837-7733 or go to redsquaremd.com.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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