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Moscow: Without Limits

As Moscow booms, its convention and meeting venues are playing catch-up

As Moscow booms, its convention and meeting venues are playing catch-up   by Edith Hall Friedheim  In October 2006, a total of about 40,000 high-profile politicians, businessmen and show-business celebrities, most of them Russian, attended the four-day Millionaire Fair at Moscow's Crocus City Exhibition Center to buy diamond-encrusted telephones and other indulgences most provincial Russians can only dream of. Dizzy from the wealth the oil boom has brought, a nouveau riche Russian elite are making up for decades of deprivation, creating lives ever and ever more bespredel (without limits). Tourism might be driving St. Petersburg's economy, but Moscow is a commercial boomtown where entire neighborhoods of drab Soviet architecture are being replaced with smart shopping centers, nightclubs and glass-and-steel office buildings that tower above the rest of the city.

The area around Krasnaya Presnya, once a working-class quarter, has the greatest political and financial concentration, housing the White House, World Trade Center, Expocenter and other corporate megaliths. Originally the idea for a major trade center was initiated by Armand Hammer, who began doing business with the USSR in the 1920s and knew every Communist leader from Lenin to Gorbachev. Launched in 1980, along with its adjacent Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel, the first WTC was replaced in 2004 with a 21-story World Trade Center II, built between the original complex and a new Expocenter.

There's no shortage of convention facilities in Moscow, but when it comes to claims of "state-of-the-art technology," caveat emptor: What Westerners consider state-of-the-art can fall frustratingly short in other parts of the world.  Of the three major meetings venues near Moscow's fairgrounds, the World Trade Center (12 Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment (nab.), tel. 495-258-1212; claims its 1,500-person capacity Congress Hall is the city's largest and best equipped multi-purpose facility, no more, no less. The venue's 28 adaptable function halls on two floors boast several thousand square feet of floor space and such support services as simultaneous translation, audio-visual equipment, overhead projector and screen, flipcharts and markers, and microphones. (These or similar services are provided by most Moscow business and hotel centers.)

The Manezh Exhibition Center (1 Manezhnaia St., tel. 095-292-4459;) has an unbeatable location near the Kremlin and a fascinating history that dates back to 1817, when the original building—now virtually replaced because of a deadly fire in 2004—was a riding school where Tolstoy had his first lessons.

The Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel, the "Mezh" to expats (12 Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment, tel. 095-258-2122; has the advantage of sharing both the World Trade Center's address and its 1,500-seat Congress Hall. And nearby, Expocenter (14 Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment, tel. 495-255-3733; has added a 600-seat Expo-Congress facility to attract the conference market. Although the fairgrounds in particular, and Krasnaya Presnya, its neighboring Fili, and the southern districts in general, can hardly be considered ideal starting points for exploring Moscow on foot, they do encompass Tolstoy's House, the former Russian Parliament building, Victory Park and Moscow State University, all worth a visit.

Crocus City International Exhibition Center (4 Krasnogorsk, tel. 495-727-2598; is one of Moscow's most ambitious developments, part of a $28 million Crocus Expo complex that includes a marina, yacht club, helicopter pad, entertainment center, luxury shopping mall and up-market restaurants—Disneyland redux.  As such, it managed to snare the 2006 Millionaire Club trade show for the second consecutive year. 900 delegates can convene in 226,042 square feet of floor space when the four conference halls of Pavilion 1 are combined. The Food Court in the same pavilion can dish up more than 1,000 Russian-style portions of blini and beef stroganoff at one time.

If the sleek, low-slung Crocus City complex defines "new" Russian architecture, the All-Russia Exhibition Center (Vserossiysky Vystavochny Center, tel. 495-544-3400; ) screams "Stalin Baroque" in all its excess. Ornate, monumental in size and scope—with 70 fountains, about 70 pavilions and wide promenades, the VVTs, as it is called today, was created by the Soviet government in 1939, enlarged during the 1950s to better glorify Soviet Republics, and finally left to fend for itself after the collapse of Communism. The current trade-fair-cum-shopping-center is as much a tourist attraction as a center of commerce. Closer to central Moscow the well-established Sokolniki Culture and Exhibition Center (1 Sokolnicheskiy Val, Pav. 4, tel. 495-995-0595; offers 13 function halls in 301,390 square feet of indoor space.

Every city in Russia has a Gostiny Dvor, a central covered market. Moscow's, in Red Square (3 Varvarka St., tel. 095-298-5549; has undergone centuries of modification since it was first covered in brick in 1590 and later transformed in neoclassical style with Corinthian columns and arcades. In 1995 it gained a glass roof and its Atrium morphed into one of the city's most fashionable exhibition venues.

Moscow may seem overwhelming at first, but its historic nucleus—Red Square and the Kremlin—is compact enough to see on foot. Heading any list of must-sees: Lenin's Mausoleum, St. Basil's Cathedral, the GUM department store and the Kremlin itself, which houses among other tsarist treasures Catherine the Great's diamond-studded coronation crown and a collection of Fabergé eggs.

As to restaurants in central city, One Red Square (tel. 095-925-3600)— enter via the History Museum—features a menu culled from 200 years of traditional Russian recipes; it's inexpensive for its location, and the cuisine is highly rated. Bosco, in the GUM department store (tel. 095-929-3182), is a cross between an Italian café and a Russian tearoom. What could be a better combination than cappuccino and views of the sun setting over St. Basil's at dusk? Even Pushkin would approve of Café Pushkin (tel. 095-229-5590/91), a restored 19th-century mansion where the in-crowd dines on blini and black caviar. The café isn't really a café at all, except for its ground-level bar open 24 hours. Upstairs the cuisine is strictly haute, with prices to match. But Café Pushkin is one of Moscow's finest restaurants, and worth the splurge.


While most major Moscow hotels house conference facilities, the largest and best-equipped are not necessarily in the top properties or most central locations. One businessman recently praised the President's "five-star conference rooms" while deriding its "four-star accommodations." And the colossal, recently revamped 1970s Cosmos Hotel garners fewer than five stars in guidebooks, but its convention facilities are among Moscow's most sophisticated. Conversely, the Mezhdunarodnaya, sharing the World Trade Center's 1,500-seat Congress Hall and other business amenities, is a true five-star hotel in every respect except location;  anyone looking for nightlife will find it inconvenient.  And speaking of nightlife, local restaurants and nightclubs open, close, and change their addresses so often that hotel guests should consult their concierge desks for recommendations. 

In Russian hotel ratings, stars are not as important as when a property was built or completely upgraded.  Generally location determines price;  the closer the property to the center of town, the more expensive.  According to Natasha Bloom, Sales Executive with the Russian Travel Group, Moscow's average $347 room rate qualifies it as the world's most expensive city for lodging (especially in November, prime convention time), outdistancing New York and London.  Yet there are bargains to be had.

The colossal (almost 1,800 rooms) Soviet-era Cosmos Hotel (150 Mira Prospect, tel. 095-234-1000; doesn't have the five-star prestige of Moscow's Marriotts or Méridiens, but it boasts one of the city's most comprehensive convention and conferences venues, including a 1,000-seat congress/concert/ cinema hall, and multiple conference and exhibition halls.  All this and an exhaustive Web site, albeit last updated in 1998, make it a standout in its class.

When easy access to Red Square and the Kremlin counts, it's reassuring to book the brands with cache:  Marriott, Hyatt, Kempinski.  As the latest in Moscow's inventory of elite central-city hotels, the ultra-deluxe Ararat Park Hyatt (4 Neglinnaya St., tel. 095-783-1234; offers almost 4,000 square feet of business space in its well-staffed, 180-seat ballroom and smaller meeting rooms. Nearly everything is within walking distance, including the best restaurants. Its bar is also the crème de la crème of Moscow night spots.

As typically European in style and décor as the Ararat is modern, the Baltschug Kempinski (1 Baltschug St., tel. 095-230-6500; has an unprepossessing façade and terrific views of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral. Up to 180 people can rendezvous in two adequate-sized meeting rooms or sit down to dinner in an atrium that serves up to 230.

Marriott's five-star flagship Grand (26 Tverskaya St., tel. 095-937-0000;, the same company's five-star Aurora Royal (11/20 Petrovska St., tel. 095-937-1000;, and the slightly lower-end but enormous Renaissance (18/1 Olympijskij Avenue, tel. 095-931-9000; www.renaissancehotels .com) handle groups of up to 600 in as many as 28,000 square feet of floor space (Renaissance).

Less expensive than the Marriotts, the elegant Art Nouveau Metropol (1/4  Theater Passage, tel. 095-927-6000;, dating from 1903, is no slouch when it comes to celebrity guests, having hosted Leo Tolstoy, G.B. Shaw and JFK during its hundred-year history. Clients convene either in the main conference hall holding just under 300 people, or in five smaller rooms, ranging in capacity from 50 at a round table, to 150 in an amphitheater setup.

Another 19th-century landmark—somehow it also survived Stalin's demolition of countless relics of the Russian "bourgeoisie"—the National Hotel, now Le Royal Méridien National (14/1 Okhatny Rd., tel. 095-258-7000; was Lenin's home in 1918. Refurbished during the 1990s, it now vies with the Metropol as Moscow's grande dame, boasting views of the Kremlin its rival can't match. The National's 14 banquet halls and conference rooms service as many as 170 people. 

Finally, the President (24 Bolshaya Yakimanka, tel. 095-239-3800; www., once a pied-à-terre for high-ranking Soviet officials, and the Golden Ring (5 Smolenskaya Square, tel. 095-725-0100; are updated vintage Soviet, and both offer a full range of facilities.


Aeroflot (nonstop)
From NY (JFK):
business class $2,799–$4,798;
economy class $459–$2,194
From Los Angeles:
business class 3,599–$5,758;
economy class $739–$2,638

AeroSvit (via Kiev)
From NY (JFK):
business class $1,859–$2,290
economy class $284–$1,444
From Los Angeles: AeroSvit only flies from NY. Buying a separate roundtrip from LA–NY on another carrier would be cheaper than buying its published interline fares

Air France (via Paris)
From NY (JFK or Newark):
business class $2,863–$6,674;
economy class $383–$3,974
From Los Angeles:  business class $3,300–$8,455;
economy class $506–$5,564  

Delta Airlines
From NY (JFK nonstop):
business class $2,943–$8,034;
economy class $413–$4,054
From Los Angeles (via JFK): business class $3,300–$9,540;
economy class $579–$5,564
Lufthansa (via Frankfurt or Munich)
From NY(JFK or Newark):
business class $2,863–$7,058;
economy class $589–$4,046
From Los Angeles:
business class $3,300–$8,838;
economy class $779–$5,564

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