The first round - St. Petersburg's best pubs and beer restaurants

Every major city in the world has at least a couple of Irish and English theme pubs. In St. Petersburg, however, this trend has become a true phenomenon, with the number of similar establishments now well over 100 and increasing every year.

Given Russia's reputation for alcohol consumption, you'd be forgiven for expecting the country to have its own rich bar culture. In fact, although the traktir (a type of inn originally established by Peter the Great) was once a feature of every Russian settlement, this tradition was almost completely killed off in the Soviet era, when the authorities did all they could to discourage the populace from consuming alcohol. With the new-found freedom of the 1990s, local entrepreneurs turned mostly to foreign models to attract patrons. St. Petersburg can boast several long-standing German and Czech beer bars and in the last few years several Belgian pubs have also appeared but, for reasons not exactly apparent, it is British and Irish pubs that have proved most popular.

While St. Petersburg's pubs strive for authenticity in terms of appearance, with interiors richly decorated with horse brasses and old sporting prints, leather furnishings and dartboards, they differ from their prototypes in a few key features. First off, pubs in St. Petersburg tend to be fairly expensive establishments, popular among well-heeled office workers who will pay a premium for imported draft beers and single-malt whiskies. Second, nearly all St. Petersburg pubs have a full restaurant menu, and you're more likely to find international standards like Caesar salad or spaghetti carbonara than a steak and ale pie. Finally, thanks to Russia's more liberal licensing laws, pubs in St. Petersburg can remain open well into early hours of the morning.

Selected pubs:

British $$
Dickens goes to exceptional lengths (right up to a jar of pickled eggs behind the bar) to create an English pub atmosphere. Located next to the Fontanka River, it has attractive outdoor seating in the summer, and offers a huge range of imported draft beers and a superior food menu all year round. The full English breakfast is also the best in St. Petersburg.
European, International $$
Undoubtedly the best place to get a drink before, after or even during a performance at the Mariinsky Theatre opposite, the Shamrock has now been open for two decades, and has managed to develop the atmosphere of a real local pub. The Guiness is always flowing, there's usually some sporting event being screened, and local musicians make a fair stab at traditional Irish music in the evenings.