Special to The Moscow News For dedicated sightseers in freezing February, an ideal strategy is to combine beautiful houses with cosy cafes. The area around "Patriarch's Ponds" offers plenty of both, often in the same building, and provides a painless introduction to some of Moscow's most famous architects. From 17th century palaces to Style Moderne (art nouveau) and beyond, this walk has a bit of everything, not to mention lots of coffee and cake.
Coming out of Mayakovskaya Station (1) onto Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa, turn left along the busy Garden Ring. Passing the Aquarium Gardens, you may be tempted a Coffee House in an interesting art nouveau apartment block where the novelist Bulgakov lived and wrote his famous novel The Master and Margarita. Further on, the house at number 4, with the neo-classical frieze, was the home of the architect Fyodor Shektel in 1909. He also designed the building. Next door at number 2 is the excellent Volkonsky Bakery where you can sit in the silk-cushioned window seats and leisurely sip an espresso.
Immediately after Volkonsky's, turn left down Malaya Bronnaya Ulitsa, passing the famous Patriarch's Ponds (2) where "Woland," Bulga kov's devil first appears in Moscow. The connection with supernatural powers dates from the days when it was still "Goat Swamp" and reputedly haunted, before Patriarch Iov drained the area in the sixteenth century to form three fish ponds (of which only one survives). Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's plan for giant statues of figures from the Master and Mar garita was (luckily) never realised and the old statue of Ivan Krylov together with bronze animals from his fables still presides over the playground and skaters.
The modern apartment block on the near corner with Yermolaevsky Pereulok combines the monumentalism of the Stalin era with statues, pillars, domes and even a replica of Tatlin's constructivist spiral on the roof. Rumour has it that the plans were proposed by two architecture students as a joke. The house nearby with the lions over the gates was built by students of the architect Zholtovsky in 1945.
The 19th century pavilion at the far end of the pond has an expensive cafe inside, but the service and ambience are ridiculously snooty. More congenial is the bohemian Café Margarita on the corner, with its murals and live music. Or try the old-fashioned Donna Clara at number 21, with its view of the art nouveau facade opposite. The building that houses Donna Clara may seem unremarkable, but it is actually an innovative communal housing block built by Moisei Ginzburg, who was a pioneer of what came to be called the constructivist style. This block, also known as the Gosstrakh Apartments (one of which was rented by Sergei Tretyakov), was the first such neighborhood to use Le Corbusier's principles of modern architecture in Russia.
Further down Malaya Bronnaya, you pass a fancy French cake shop and the "Aist" (Stork) cafe. Turning left past the bronze stork sculptures, you can see the restored synagogue across the road, encased in a glass and concrete shell and a star-patterned fence. Coming back to the junction, you can see a statue of the Jewish writer, Sholem Aleichem, (3) with characters from his stories embossed on the pedestal. Take the little path running to the right of the statue and follow it out onto Spiridonovka Ulitsa, by another statue, this time to the symbolist poet Alexander Blok.
Looking left, you can see the spectacular "Gorky House" and, behind it the Church of the Grand Ascension. If you are short of time or getting cold you can head straight for them, but a quick turn around the block first takes you past some interesting buildings. Walking right up Spiridonovka, you come to Shektel's first disneyesque neo-gothic creation, the Morozov mansion at number 17, covered in dragons and gargoyles (4). Across the road at number 30 is the Tarasov mansion that was designed by Ivan Zholtovsky in 1912. It shows his Italian influences, as does the house round the corner to the left at number 21 Vspolny Pereulok, past another cluster of elegant cafes. This house is nineteenth century, but was remodelled by Zholtovsky and decorated with neo-classical designs and Corinthian columns. Another Shektel House is visible behind the wall at number 9.
Round the corner left into Granatny Pereulok is the lovely Tajikistan Embassy, but the real highlight on this road is the House of Architects at numbers 7-11, opposite which is a Statue of Alexei Shusev who designed Lenin's mausoleum (5). The first grey block is a 1970s extension, followed by a more interesting 1930s section in red brick and grey marble, topped by a map of Moscow. The oldest part is a mansion built by Adolf Erichson in 1896, combining gothic and baroque elements. It is usually fairly easy to get inside the architect's union: toilets are to the right and exhibition and conference halls to the left. Beyond this is the original wooden staircase that leads up to a gallery with arched windows. Here there is the delightful little café "Galeria" with very reasonable prices, but rather erratic opening hours.
Number 4 is a much-restored early nineteenth century house with a portico and belvedere, while the large white building on the corner is the seventeenth century "Granatny Pa lace" (6). Beyond this is Shektel's masterpiece at 6, Malaya Nikitskaya (The Gorky House,) probably the most famous art nouveau house in Moscow with its distinctive pink frieze of orchids and irises. It was built from 1900 to 1903 for the millionaire Stepan Ryabushinsky and was later given to the writer Maxim Gorky who lived here for the last six years of his life. The house is deliberately asymmetrical, using curving natural forms and wave patterns in every detail from the window frames to the fence. The interior is even better. It's free and open Wed-Sun, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Crossing both Malaya and Bolshaya Nikitskaya by passing between the Grand Ascension Church where Pushkin was married, and the statue of Alexei Tolstoy, who lived nearby,
continue on along Merzlyakovsky Pereulok, passing a coffee shop,
a music school and the Gogol memorial rooms. The wooden house on the left under a tree contains Café Dioskuria (7) which does some of the best khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) in town. Emerging under an archway onto Novy Arbat, turn left away from the tower blocks to find a series of crossings and underpasses leading past the Praga Restaurant to the star-shaped pavilion of Arbatskaya Metro Station.