Propaganda: A shining red star on Cherokee St.
Late last year, I found myself wandering aimlessly up and down Cherokee St. yearning for a drink somewhere new. I had spent time in other wonderful establishments and after four years in St. Louis had come to realize there was more to the city than just an Arch.
The food, the arts and craft beer created a paradise hidden by the allure of Chicago’s skyline and phrases such as “flyover country.”
So there I was.
Searching for a bar.
But not just any bar, rather a place to cultivate friendships on either side of the railing; engage in meaningful and provocative conversations; and enjoy original cocktail creations.
And there, near the corner of Cherokee St. and Iowa Ave.: Propaganda. (2732 Cherokee St.)
If the Soviet Hammer and Sickle bike rack didn’t give you an idea of this bar’s theme. You have only to walk through the glass doors.
The first thing you’ll see is a Soviet army uniform perfectly placed on the mannequin greeting all who walk by.
To your left, is a wall covered with Soviet propaganda posters.
To your right, images from the evening’s movie selection- always a Russian language cartoon- displayed on the blank wall, next to a large St. Louis themed industrial worker mural.
Behind the railing and in between the liquor is an assortment of military caps, matryoshka dolls, and a large Russian copper tea pot.
If you didn’t grow up during the Cold War, you will certainty feel like you did before stumbling home.
That memory of East v. West political tension was the driving force behind propaganda’s creation.
In an interview with the Riverfront Times (RFT), Tatyana Tenikova, owner of Propaganda, said that the bar was an affectionate glance at her past and a call to question new forms of propaganda.
“Growing up in a country [Russia] with closed borders. Only diplomats were able to leave the country. I was raised with the mentality of the ‘rotten west’-that people had terrible lives here [U.S.],” she said.
Emigrating at the age of 16, Tatyana saw a different truth and when asked if the bar is a celebration of Communist ideals, her response is:
“On the contrary, I want people to think about how much these divisions meant and how little they mean now and maybe think about what that means in terms of what we’re hearing today.”
But, before this specter of communism came to haunt the Midwest, it was known by another name: Art Bar.
It’s closing caused an uproar for the scummy, hipster critics. Which I won’t discuss here.
Read the RFT article if you want those details.
Back inside as you take your seat, a friendly smile greets you while asking, “is this your first time here?”
If the answer is “yes,” you are carefully guided through the menu, told of the house infused vodka, and of the free shot at 10:00pm.
A small selection of Russian delicacies is available to nosh on, too.
Instinctively, you will ask, “Really? A free shot?” A cheerful head nod from the bartender will be the only response.
As you look over the menu weighing the options, you will notice on your left, past the restrooms, people strolling out of a secret space.
That’s the “Red Room.”
A cozy parlor available for private events, book clubs, or planning revolution.
But, let’s get back to that cocktail list.
I’ve had them all and will describe them based on how I felt when ordering each one.
Russian Tea: Great after a long-distance conversation with your parents discussing current life choices.
Comrade Pineapple: Celebrating the completion of a half-assed work project.
Dacha Time: When you’re feeling like gin at a vodka bar.
Drunky Tatanka: It’s a wheat-grass infused vodka, therefore it must have a health benefit.
Anapa Apple: Great for bubbly birthday toasts.
Pickled Perestroyka: The dirtiest of dirty martinis.
Lenin’s Lemons: When taking a Marxist approach to alcohol consumption.
Russian Pickling: Whatever vodka you choose, just know that “the Dude” will abide.
Russki Rum: Warm up quickly after a night of canvassing.
Kafe Chocolate: Perfect for the cold-brew coffee drinker.
Choclate Orange: A classy way to begin a winter holiday with friends.
Dissident: For those, “Did that really just happen?!” moments. Courtesy of NPR.