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The first ryumochnaya-style venues appeared in St Petersburg back in the 19th century. Created for those who were not as keen on having a proper lunch or dinner, guests were served a shot of vodka, a small appetizer (zakuska), and a cigarette. The ryumochnaya concept has had its ups and downs, but its always stayed a part of the vodka culture. Here’s how to order vodka like a proper Russian when in a ryumochnaya.
In Russia, there are a million ways to drink vodka, but the most traditional way—and the way most common at most ryumochnayas—is taking pure vodka shots. Although it’s not the smoothest method, Russians insist this is the only way to do it. A standard vodka shot in a ryumochnaya is about 50 grams and usually costs less than $1 USD.
Zakuski is similar to a small appetizer, but it’s commonly consumed after having a vodka. There are many types of zakuski, but they tend to be salty or sour. Pickles, toast with herring and onions, bread with butter, and caviar are among the more traditional options.
Drinking vodka is a social event, so it’s better to share. Although there are times visitors might see locals taking shots alone, these are usually regulars who know most of people in the room already, including the bartender. At some point even these lonely visitors might randomly start doing toasts and having drinks with others.
After-work-hours or during football matches tend to be the most popular times to visit a ryumochnaya, but most open early and welcome visitors any time of day. Some even open around 7 a.m. Visitors who find themselves at a ryumochnaya bright and early should feel free to take a shot of vodka at any hour. No one will judge you for that.
In most cases, patrons don’t spend a ton of time loitering in a ryumochnaya. They were created to have a shot almost on-the-go and can be a perfect pit stop while wandering around the city, especially during the Russian winter. If you do stop in for just a shot, don’t stay too long. Enjoy it and continue on your way. Of course, there are exceptions to this, as some ryumochnaya now offer a wider menu and aren’t bothered if customers have a glass of beer and linger.