Moscow's Aragvi restaurant, once the legendary haunt of KGB spies and cosmonauts, has reopened with its Soviet-era grandeur restored.
The high-end eatery on the main Tverskaya street, which opened in 1938 at the height of Stalin's purges, has relaunched under the same name after a $20 million (17 million euros) restoration.
The restaurant opened on the initiative of Stalin's notorious security chief Lavrenty Beria for the use of officials from his NKVD agency, the Soviet secret service later renamed the KGB.
It grew popular with other officials and later in the 1960s under Nikita Khrushchev, in the so-called "Thaw" period when censorship and repression eased, lured a more bohemian crowd of artists and actors.It grew popular with other officials and later in the 1960s under Nikita Khrushchev, in the so-called "Thaw" period when censorship and repression eased, lured a more bohemian crowd of artists and actors.
Aragvi was immortalised in Soviet literature and featured in films, although its sky-high prices made it accessible only to a tiny elite.
Diners had to pay a tenth of the average monthly wage for the privilege of eating alongside artists, cosmonauts, filmmakers and chess champions.
"In the Soviet Union, dropping a mention of the famous Aragvi chicken -- which was grilled with nuts and garlic -- gained you entry into the creme de la creme of society," said one former diner, Nelli Maximova, an 83-year-old retired translator.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the state-owned restaurant was privatised and changed hands several times, but it rapidly lost its cachet and finally closed down in 2003.
Its new owners, Tashir group and Gor Nakhapetyan, who previously led the Troika Dialog investment group, have spent more than $20 million restoring the restaurant, saying they want to revive a Soviet legend.
The new menu includes the classic Georgian dishes that made its reputation such as khinkali (dumplings full of meat and bouillon) and khachapuri, bread topped with cheese, as well as non-Georgian specialities such as borscht and Black Sea herring pate.