Once-empty shops have become expensive restaurants, designer boutiques and 24-hour convenience stores. Nightlife, which used to be restricted to cheesy singers at bad restaurants, has exploded into one of the most vibrant and decadent party scenes in Europe. Young Muscovite women read the Russian-language Cosmopolitan, dress in Benetton, Rollerblade on weekends and order goat-cheese-and-basil pizza by phone. Mobile phones are commonplace.
Mayor Yury Luzhkov has transformed the center of the city by rebuilding the magnificent Christ the Savior Cathedral and constructing a huge, three-level shopping mall under Manezh Square, next to the Kremlin. The crime wave of the early 90s has tapered off—the notorious mafia has become more subtle in its dress and business methods. Moscow is acquiring all the attributes of a western European city at breakneck speed—but all interpreted with an unmistakably Russian panache.