When it first opened in the mid-1990s, an evening out at Pravda often began with finding a payphone. The Prohibition-style basement speakeasy featured no signage to indicate the Russian restaurant within, so many patrons were reduced to phoning for directions. Once they arrived, however, the memory of such efforts tended to vanish swiftly in a heady atmosphere where premium vodkas, champagne, and caviar flowed. Pravda’s name—the same as the former Communist party paper of record—hints at its Soviet-chic influences, but a spirit of clandestine luxury holds far greater sway beneath the restaurant’s immense plaster archways and lanterns printed with Russian text. Meals are more aptly described as grand tours of the house specialties, often beginning with a presentation of caviar that diners can spread on toast points or blini. To experience a classic Russian pairing, groups should order shots of vodka, such as the small-batch Ultra vodka from 300-year-old distiller Jewel of Russia. Said to have been a favorite of several czars, the vodka still goes through a slow-flow filtration process designed to leave it exceptionally smooth without any loss of character. Pravda's owners consider it among the finest of their more than 70 kinds of vodka, and it’s also among the rarest: only 2,000 bottles a month are released to the United States, each with hand-painted caps and glass. The food menu begins with two distinctly Russian samplers: Pravda's Russian Experience, a collection of charcuterie, cheeses, and pickled herring, and the Zakouski platter, a spread of traditional hors d'oeuvres such as potato pancakes and roasted eggplant dip. From there, the selection becomes surprisingly diverse, as diners can choose from plum-tomato pizza, steak frites, and even mini cheeseburgers. Meals often conclude with something from the rotating dessert menu, such as bittersweet Belgian chocolate cake baked to order and served still steaming from the oven. But depending on the hour, music might serve as a final course. A DJ begins spinning mellow sounds around 9 p.m., gradually upping the energy around 10 p.m. by feeding the turntables strong Russian tea. Like a true speakeasy, Pravda caters to the evening crowd, serving as late as 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
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