Starlite Diner at Mayakovsky Burns Down

2.10.17. UPDATE! Possible reopening after 3-6 months.

Paul O’Brien, one of the Diner’s owners wrote to RK and explained the situation:

We are waiting for the official report from the fire inspectors before we public make statements.

There is nothing surreptitious about the fire. It was an electrical fire in the ceiling in the center of the restaurant. There were people in the restaurant (we are open 24hrs). We believe it was a slow burning fire due to an electrical short exacerbated by lack of oxygen. When we pushed up the panel to check the situation oxygen was available and we had a flash fire throughout the ceiling. We could not control  it with our extinguishers. We evacuated everyone with no problems and the fire department came and put it out. I believe the diner is a total loss. We are bringing in construction companies to give us estimates to replace it. I believe it would take min 3 months – closer to 6 months to replace it.


Original article posted 30.9.17:

John Harrison

The Starlite Diner at Mayakovsky was more than a place to eat, although finding a place next to a Metro in the centre of town that is reasonable priced and has a semi-foreign vibe about it is not that easy if you happen to be a foreigner. With its combination of hookah smokers, newly arrived fresh looking foreigners thinking that Russia isn’t that bad after all, more hardened long timers celebrating their continued existence, slightly embarrassed English teachers trying to get their students to keep their voices down (even though the staff had obligingly agreed to turn the music down) together with the odd journo and writer or two trying to make sense of this postmodern phenomenon with its eclectic LIFE covers on the walls; the place was bizarre and comfortable enough to make you want to come back time and time again no matter whether you happened to be an ‘expat’ whatever that means, or a Russian, or somewhere in between.

So what в конце концов happened? The rumour mill has been supercharged with different versions,  and Starlite’s management has been button lipped which has only made things worse. Their only reference to the incident is a short announcement in Russia on their ‘VK’ page that the restaurant is closed, followed by the address of their nearby Starlite downstairs at Chicago Prime, which has a different atmosphere, and is 15-20  minutes’ walk away.

This is not such a big story for the Russian press, which has been very factual.  reported that nobody was in the building when the fire occurred, presumably meaning that everybody was evacuated, and that 150 sq. meters were affected by the fire. At a rough guess, the Diner occupied about 350 sq. meters, so the place was not completely destroyed. Vedomosti reported that the fire was reported at 00:46 and was put out by 01:49 on the morning  of the 27th of September. Izvestia reported that TASS had rejected the claim that a fire had also broken out in a nearby building, a story that confirmed, as they wrote that a fire in the nearby theatre ‘Моссовет’ had been reported and this was quickly refuted by the firefighters. reported ‘furniture and equipment’ is burning.

For foreigners however, this is a different story. The place was one of our most treasured haunts in the whole of Moscow, although some felt that too few foreigners frequented the place in recent years. Given the drastic reduction in numbers of westerners in Moscow since 1994, this is hardly surprising. Many have expressed, directly or indirectly that the fire somehow signalled the ‘end of an era.’

The incident is tailor made for speculation. From informal conversations with one of the members of the board of Directors of the company that owns the Diners (and Chicago Prime as well as other ventures) in the past, I learned there have indeed been problems with the authorities regarding the use of the summer veranda in the Akvarium Park where the remains of the Diner are located; and that would lead a suspicious journalist like me to suspect that there had been other problems. We should not forget that this Diner, which was the first such establishment to open in Moscow in 1995, was opened under very different circumstances; and the terms of the original lease may or may not have been strictly abided by, indeed the lease may well have been changed on more than one occasion by the leasing body. A serious fire broke out at this Diner in 1997 but the eatery was quickly reopened. I should imagine that the Diner was insured. The Diner at Bolotnaya was closed last year, for undisclosed reasons.

It is all too easy, however, to jump to conclusions. There are many reasons that restaurants close; such as commercial competition. It is perhaps significant, and a reflection of the polemic times we live in, that nobody has suggested another possible cause: that a client was drunk, dropped a burning coal from a hookah onto some spilt beer and whoosh… Can we really say that anti-Americanism is the cause for this without any kind of evidence whatsoever?, even though the management saying nothing would lead the observer to think exactly that.

Whatever the reason, many foreigners (including this scribe who lives near there and used the place a lot 24/7 and 12/12) profoundly regret that the place has gone. We all hope that the owners of this iconic venture will find the cash and the clout to allow the Diner to literally rises from the ashes; sooner rather than later. That its pleasant waitresses will once again instil some raison d’ être into us in the middle of a wicked hangover, that Starlite will somehow manage to replace the eclectic LIFE covers that adorned its walls and the remarkable jukebox. We also hope that the management of Starlite Diner will be kind enough or be able to make a statement. That would be the decent thing to do, given the customer loyalty that your restaurants have established. I can’t believe I am writing about a Diner for God’s sake, in such sentimental terms, just goes to show what a special place it was.

This article was written on the morning of 30.9.17 and excuse me if it’s out of date by the time you read it.