Moscow excess hits new heights

Russia capped its journey from communism to capitalism with the opening of a $1 000-a-night luxury hotel on the site of an old Soviet hostelry best known for its surly service and bugged telephones.

by: Reuters: Christian Lowe | 02 Jul 2007

The Ritz-Carlton hotel near Moscow's Red Square sets a new standard for decadence in a city where an oil-driven economic boom has created an explosion of wealth and a headlong rush to spend it.

The hotel's presidential suite, where the dining room is fitted with bullet-proof glass and windows, costs a little over $16 000 (about R112 000) a night.

That does not include breakfast, but hotel staff recommend the Tsar's breakfast, a $700 (R5 000) per person meal that includes Cristal champagne, Beluga caviar and truffle omelette.

The hotel's wine list features a 1961 Chateau Petrus at $68 000 (R470 000) a bottle, and a 1969 vintage Macallan Single Malt Scotch Whiskey priced at $400 (R3 000) a shot.

"Our guests are very discriminating and have high expectations," said Ritz-Carlton President Simon Cooper.

"We are well aware of the growing wealth that is occurring in Russia ... and so we think the timing of the opening of the first Ritz-Carlton hotel is as good at it gets," Cooper told reporters.

The new hotel was built on the site of the Intourist, flagship hotel of the Soviet Union's Intourist agency that employed staff vetted for their political loyalty to guide foreign tourists on tightly-controlled excursions.

After the Soviet collapse, the concrete tower on Tverskaya street acquired a seedy atmosphere: the air conditioning did not work, prostitutes in tiny skirts toured the lobby bar and the bed linen was threadbare.

The cheapest rooms at the Ritz-Carlton hotel will cost a little over $1,000 (R7 000) after tax. Russia is home to hundreds of millionaires who could easily afford those rates, managers said one Russian earlier this month booked a suite for a year.

But the hotel said it expected about 80 percent of its guests to be foreign travelers, though it predicted the proportion of Russians would rise over time.

However, General Manager Oliver Eller said they should not be deterred. Ordinary Muscovites were welcome to come in, take a look at the new hotel and order a cup of coffee.

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