There’s Something About an Enticing Window Display …
On a cold, windy evening while strolling down the Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg, I happened upon a window filled with comical, mechanical figures in motion. The whimsical storefront display brought back memories of when I was a child at Christmas time in New Orleans when the major department stores on Canal Street tried to out do each other with the best seasonal windows. My German grandmother and I would always linger and watch the beautiful, mechanized Christmas scenes and decide which ones were our favorites.
From my research about what Russians value most, I learned "children" are the number one priority in every Russian's life. Money, a good job, a nice apartment are important but these things don't touch the Russian soul like their love for their children. The thought crossed my mind that the window display which was giving me such pleasure was created to amuse the children of St Petersburg. Thus, I thought this store or maybe restaurant must be geared to families with children.
I peaked deeper through the display window and realized this was, unexpectedly, a fancy place to buy food and have something to eat. Even though I wasn't hungry, my curiosity inspired me to go inside and look around.
A Culinary Wonderland
ENCHANTING was my first impression! I envisioned the "young Dr. Zhivago coming here to buy some exquisite sweets for his young wife." What I discovered was that this sophisticated culinary emporium was not designed to delight families with children but was a tony food wonderland for the monied residents of the city.
Upon entering this magical place, an exotic, oversized palm tree encircled with a red velvet banquette called my name! I'm in love with Russian architecture and interiors because of their use of opulent, yet refined design elements. This unique, dining setting was too dramatic for me to ignore. Happily, I decided to relax, have a glass of wine and people watch for a while.
While listening to a piano player fill the room with melodies by Tchaikovsky, I marveled at this upscale food emporium's gorgeous Art Deco interior. To date, I had already seen many of the unbelievably beautiful, historic interiors of St Petersburg's palaces and museums but I had not observed anything this gorgeous in a commercial setting except for in some of the snazziest hotels.
A Hidden Gem of Russian Delight!
The plastered angel corniches, the stained glass work of art windows, the dramatic art deco light fixtures, the curved brass signs and the antique display counters all gave the Eliseyev Emporium such an authentic, aristocratic Russian feel. I surmised this place must have had an interesting history which was hinted at by the two well-dressed, male mannequins peering down at the busy first floor from a second floor balcony.
Half way through my glass of wine, I asked the solo diner seated next to me on the palm tree banquette if he spoke English. I was so fascinated by this elegant food establishment, I wanted to know more about its history and why it was so special. The gentleman shared he was an English speaking, nuclear physicist who was in town for a conference. He said he had been to St Petersburg numerous times and on every visit to the city, he made it a point to come Eliseyev's and enjoy one of his favorite desserts, a cherry covered, chocolate mousse ball.
Eliseyev Emporium’s History
My newfound acquaintance said this food palace was first opened in the early 1900's before the Russian Revolution. Two wealthy merchants, the Elisseeff brothers, were the original owners who created the fanciest food hall in St Petersburg at the time. My hunch proved to be right, the physicist explained during Imperial Russian times Elisseeff's was the place to shop, eat and be seen.
Originally, it was a food hall, with a lavish restaurant downstairs. Its seven different specialty food departments were stocked with the widest selection of the finest international foods in the city. French pastries, charcuterie, cheese, smoked salmon, caviar, fresh produce, wines, spirits, teas and coffees packed the food displays. Over 3,000 varieties of exclusive products could be purchased here then and now.
High Society Atmosphere in The Most Unsuspecting Place
Today, it's current owners and Rui Miguel De Sousa, its superb manager, have recreated the magic that was present during Czarist times. Though the name, the Eliseyev Emporium, has changed, the atmosphere is still one of high society. Its continued popularity with tourists and locals alike is an overwhelming statement that "everyone loves the Eliseyev Emporium" with over 180,000 visitors shopping or dining here per month as a true testament to its rare specialness.
On another floor in the food hall is its ritzy dining area decorated with antique furniture covered with to-die-for fine fabrics. Food is served on labeled porcelain and drinks are enjoyed from gold leaf glasses. In June, I will be traveling back to St Petersburg with Greater Baton Rouge Arts Council for the Art Routes tour, and I will definitely make it a point to dine here.
The passionate attention to detail, creativity and quality of the food and interiors make the Eliseyev Emporium the unsurpassed, number one food emporium in the world. In the past, I have had the pleasure of experiencing Harrod's Food Hall in London and KaDeWe's specialty food department in Berlin which are both highly prized by the food connoisseurs of the world. Though not as big as these two, nothing can beat the refined elegance of the food and the ambiance at the Eliseyev Emporium in St Petersburg, Russia.
Enjoy this informational video which will give you a visual idea of how special this place really is. As always, we at Astrid Solo Travel Advisor welcome your comments and questions. Let us know if this post has been helpful and likewise, what you are interested in when it comes to travel.
There’s is so much more to Russia than you might think. Amazing food, exciting history, spectacular art & architecture, awe-inspiring talent and magnificent landscapes are just part of what makes Russia so truly splendid. If you have any interest at all in exploring Russia a bit more, read more about the tour I created with the Greater Baton Rouge Arts Council and look out for new tours emerging soon! In the meantime, explore more posts on Russian culture below!
Author: Astrid Clements
Astrid Solo Travel Advisor CEO and founder, Astrid, has spent over 40 years traveling around the world. She is passionate about embracing the world’s diverse cultures and sharing with others the global need and personal benefit of cultural literacy. Her focus is on affordable luxury travel that is both substantive and fun! To read more about her and each one of our Solo Travel Advisors, head over to the About page!