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Nicknamed “Little Odessa” by the local Russian-speaking immigrants from Odessa, a city in Ukraine, Brighton Beach is a home away from home for Russian Americans. An ocean side neighborhood in the NYC borough of Brooklyn and a summer destination for NY residents due to its beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, Brighton Beach is a Jewish immigrant’s idea of what an American’s idea of Russia may be.
And that’s what makes it, debatably, the most fascinating ethnic territory in New York. Stuck between two worlds, with its own culture, slang, radio, TV, magazines, vibrant shops, food bazaars and restaurants, Brighton Beach is not a place any tourist should overlook.
When the weather rises to 70 degrees, the hefty locals are quick to fill the beaches with their Speedo’s and flock the popular boardwalk restaurants, such as Volna. Volna is well-known for its outdoor seating and for being a quiet and friendly place to go for coffee in the morning…or something a little stronger.
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When it comes to food, the people of Brighton Beach don’t mess around. Creating a wonderland of smoked fish, pelmeni (“Siberian dumplings”) and knishes (cabbage, spinach, meat and potatoes), the M&I International Food Mart is a favorite of both locals and tourists.
Stroll down the gallant aisles, neatly organized with fresh baked chleb (bread) and a sweetshop filled with inexpensive, immense boxes of chocolates so perfectly decorated that you won’t even have to wrap them when you give them as gift (editor’s note: beware of alcoholic chocolates).
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A place so posh that it has managed to establish a citywide reputation for its authentic Russian experience, Tatiana Restaurant and Nightclub is the place to go if you want to end your night the right way. If you want to book a table, there are two things to keep in mind.
One, you are not just booking a table, you are booking a wedding reception-like evening of dining and dancing. Secondly, if you want to blend in, you have to dress provocatively. To put it in simpler terms, they won’t let you in if you’re wearing sweat pants.
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If you didn’t pack anything but baggy clothes to your trip to New York (seriously?), then don’t worry, Julia’s Boutique has come to the rescue. It’s by no means a flashy store, but the selection should give you a hint that going out in “Little Odessa” is not exactly for introverts or the shy.
After a night of clubbing and dining, you better do something intelligent and sophisticated, like visiting the St. Petersburg Bookstore to glance at the Russian-language books. St. Petersburg Bookstore shakes its Tolstoy-Dostoyevsky and Chekhov filled head at the other bookstores, who offer a majority of English books. Such disgrace! SP is not just a bookstore – It’s a Russian paperback, hardcover, magazine, DVD and game superstore!
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Have some free time? Catch a concert at Millennium Theatre, the only theatre in Brighton Beach. It’s a vibrant concert venue where visitors can sing and dance in the aisles along to performers with many big names in Russian entertainment performing here often.
If all that dancing made you hungry, not to worry. Brighton Beach NEVER runs out of food or places to eat. Gambrinus is a Russian fish palace where life buoys and barrels fill the walls and waiters dressed in sailor suits await to serve you.
The maritime theme extends to its menu, which is seafood based to say at the least. In addition to obvious items like caviar, smoked salmon, herring and shellfish, it also contains hard-to-find treasures like Ukrainian honey-pepper vodka. But wait until the black bread arrives before you divulge into this delicacy.
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Brighton Beach has the ability to transport you to a new world for the price of a subway ride so don’t miss out on your chance. P.S., make sure to pack your English to Russian pocket dictionary!