If there is a more poignant picture of the Russian economy than a bunch of scruffy European backpackers playing Mortal Kombat on a rented-out floor in a multimillion-dollar glass-and-steel tower built for a Russian financial sector that never quite materialized, I haven't seen it. According to the New York Times, Moscow's new 148-acre financial district had a vacancy rate of 32 percent at the end of October, which is why a 25-year-old named Roman Drozdenko could rent 1,600 square feet of office space on the 43rd floor of Moscow's Empire Tower for $8K a month. "We thought, 'why not open a hostel in a skyscraper?'" he told the Times. "Nobody's done that before."
A reporter's trip to High Level Hostel yielded some deeply ironic portraits of Russia's longstanding tradition of building things they have no need for.
"In the coveted corner office, a bearded man in sweatpants scrambled eggs at a kitchenette, all the while taking in the serene beauty of the city lights twinkling far below." Pure twenty-first-century poetry. The hostel opened its doors in September with 24 beds, and rates starting at $25.50 to bunk in the group room for a night. That includes a breakfast of toast, porridge, or muesli, and all the Xbox you can play in the common area, which was originally meant to be a conference room.
When they opened, "there were no questions regarding our guests" from building management, says Drozdenko. "In fact, there were no questions at all." Hey, tenants are tenants, even if they look a bit out of place walking through the foyer, which has a sculpted marble centerpiece echoing the oval motif of the tower, and was clearly designed to be traversed by people in suits.
The hostel's 19-year-old manager, who goes by the nickname "The Beard," has good memories of his time spent with a few backpackers from Holland:
"'It was really cool because Ron and I played guitar in the evening,' he said, as they gazed out at the twirling facade of Evolution Tower and the sea of lights of Moscow below." Good to see the youth of Russia aren't all content with doing parkour in burned-out factories. The space they created doesn't look half bad:
Photographer Todd Prince has also visited, and came back with some more photos of the space, and the very hip-looking kids who work there.