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RUSSIAN ROCK AND UNDERGROUND

The most comprehensive guide to Russian rock and underground on the Web.


► Cafe Saigon


Cafe "Saigon" was a cult rock n' roll club in Leningrad, where Bohemian kids and artists alike gathered to share their musical interests and listen to their favorite artists. "Saigon" was easy to find - it was located on Nevsky Prospect between Moskovsky Vokzal (Moscow Train-station) and Gostiny Dvor. Today this place remains as only a legend, because it does not exist anymore. You can only walk to the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Vladimirsky Prospect and look at a wall which once was Cafe Saigon. At its peak, the cafe didn't look much more than a bare wall from the outside and those not in the know continuously wondered: ""How can it be that one simple house is under construction for so long?"

"Saigon" was a simple Soviet Cafe and located on the first floor of the former restaurant "Moskva". The restaurant and cafe were connected by a hidden door right behind the bar counter. Only selected people knew about that door. There was an entrance to the cafe from the street and in the middle hall, close to the windows with wide marble sills, there were lots of tables for people to drink at, but no chairs, so you had to drink fast. In the corner close to the window you could order food, which was usually boiled sausage (hot-dogs) and bread. You could also buy different types of cookies with cream. Before 1985 one could even buy champagne and cognac, but these were the only two options! Nevertheless, Saigon was a place where an intellectual and progressive public would gather to drink coffee and listen to and talk about music. Unfortunately, the KGB watched this place and the people who frequented the cafe very carefully. In "Saigon", you could meet a drug dealer who was really a good guy, but just knowing him would imply that you yourself were doing drugs. Also people drank not only coffee, but alcohol as well, and we all know that. However, finding a drinking buddy here was easy. Everyone was friends with everyone and people laughed and discussed important issues. The drinking only made the conversation more lively and unique. The heroes of Leningrad's underground music movement could all be seen here, and were very interesting characters to get to know and drink with. Boris Grebenshikov from AKVARIUM or Viktor Tsoi from KINO could be seen standing outside smoking, or Sergey Kuroykhin with his long hair could be seen just hanging around. These people were already popular and many newspapers and music journals had already started writing about them, but no one really knew them unless they visited Cafe Saigon!

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Of course there are underground music clubs everywhere in the world, where young kids gather to share their thoughts about music, but "Saigon" wasn't exactly a club or even a cafe. It was a place which cultivated the special lifestyle of several generations of an intellectual public. Ages have passed and people grew up and went their separate ways, but if you accidentally see a man in a VIP car and in a stylish suit give some spare change to an alcoholic bumming around on the streets - then maybe they are both from "Saigon" but just went in different life directions.

Every small event that occurred in "Saigon" was done as a type of protest against the stupidity of the Soviet regime. Even drugs were inhaled, digested, etc. only as a form of protest. Here forbidden books such as "Arhepelag Gulag", "Moskva-Petushki", "Lolita", "Master and Margarita", writings by Niztshe and Brodsky would be shared by "Saigon" inhabitants. It was a generation of street cleaners and watchmen and all of them were associated with this rock club, and many of them even performed here. And it was a big deal, because only one wrong act was needed to get fired, get arrested, etc. Also, such wrong acts would be noted in a person's permanent record, meaning that life would be harder in every way possible because the Soviet regime took extra care to watch those with such a record. "Saigon" irritated the city of Leningrad, and finally, the cafe was closed. Its existence didn't make any sense anymore. When the club became nothing more than a place to drink beer and coffee, when Bulgakov and Nabokov books became easy to purchase in regular book stores throughout Russia, that's when "Saigon" became useless. When Grebenshikov got invitations to perform in large, sell-out auditoriums, that's when "Saigon" closed its doors forever. And to be honest no one was really that sad about it, because such a club was no longer underground.


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