On December 7, the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg suspended the operation of the Vogel bar for 60 days due to violations of sanitary standards. Wrote a complaint about the bar activist Timur Bulatov, employees say. During the inspection of Rospotrebnadzor, the police came to the bar.
This is not the first time the bar has faced pressure. In 2021, it also had to be closed after Bulatov complained that Vogel allegedly violated anti-COVID restrictions at an evening of letters to political prisoners.
“Paper” talked to one of the founders of Vogel, Ivan Bikeev, about attempts to close the bar, its role in the cultural life of St. Petersburg, and why the founders of the institution remain in Russia despite the difficulties.
— What is Vogel and why is it important for St. Petersburg?
“The Vogel Bar is first and foremost a bar where people can gather and have a drink. It is also a discussion platform. We hold popular science lectures, honest and free people of various views come to us to discuss issues that are important to them.
Together with my colleagues – Svetlana Sokolova, Valentin Khoroshenin and Yuri Bagrov – I opened a bar a year and a half ago. We have seen that thinking people need one common ground where they can gather to communicate.
I’m just an entrepreneur, I don’t belong to any party and I don’t want to. I don’t see the point in this. My colleagues are or were members of various political movements and parties, but this is their personal position.
How was the check at the bar?
It was some kind of circus. First, employees of Rospotrebnadzor came, followed by ordinary policemen and security officials from the Center “E”. Very rarely Rospotrebnadzor is accompanied by security officials, and even more so by “eshniki”. The police tried to prevent guests from entering the bar during the check. But we told the cops they were wrong.
All these inspectors came at about 13:00, the employees of the Center “E” left after half an hour, and the inspection itself lasted until 23:00. At this time, the police were sitting in a gazelle next to the bar. When I went outside, I saw that one of them was sitting in the driver’s seat and smoking IQOS, and the second was sleeping in the back.
The Rospotrebnadzor check was very tough and meticulous. As far as I know, in general they turn a blind eye to many things, but not in our case. We checked everything: from the presence of process control logs to the accuracy of the wording in them. In general, all the documents had to be lifted and shown.
Of course, some inconsistencies were found with us, because it is impossible to keep track of all the papers. All SanPiN norms are observed only by large franchises. Small projects usually do not have time to fix all the little things. As a result, Rospotrebnadzor collected many minor violations.
– How did you understand that it was the employees of the Center “E” who came to you?
– “Eshnik” is very difficult not to recognize. Some two unidentified objects in masks came in, did not answer questions and took pictures. They sat for an hour and left.
— With what do you connect the case and the visit of employees of the Center “E”?
– We have a rather free-thinking people, and this is now being suppressed, including by employees of the Center “E”. We could not connect their visit with specific events. We wonder what the reason was. Maybe they’re just trying to close all the records at the end of the year.
– What violations of sanitary standards have you found? Do you agree with them?
– We found a lot of minor violations, which together made it possible to cover us. We absolutely disagree with this decision. Most of the comments were corrected on the spot, the rest – before the court session. Unfortunately, this was not taken into consideration.
Now, within ten days, we can call Rospotrebnadzor and show how we worked on the bugs. In an ideal world, after that we would be allowed to reopen, but in fact this is unlikely to happen.
From non-existent remarks, I remember, for example, the moment with mops. According to SanPiN, a cafe or bar should have two mops: for bathrooms and industrial premises. Our inspectors found only one, although I showed them the second one in the bathroom. The employee of Rospotrebnadzor at that moment simply turned his head to the side. I thought that he would notice and write about it in his papers, but it turned out that he ignored the presence of the mop.
Rospotrebnadzor did not count the presence of documents if we had them online and even signed with electronic signatures. That’s what happened with HACCP – this is a very thick bundle of documents describing all the technological processes. We brought this pack to the court, but it was not accepted there.
We also found minor violations of the commodity neighborhood. In the freezer, upon delivery, the buns were stacked together with cabbage. We would then shift them when defrosting, because these are semi-finished products. But this, too, was ignored.
In addition, all small scratches on the tiles were considered chips that needed to be removed.
– Have there been similar visits by security officials before?
We have been under the attention of the security forces for a long time – almost from the very opening. At the same time, there were only two visits: when we were closed at the last outlet due to alleged violation of anti-COVID measures and now.
Sometimes the police just stand next to the bar. When asked why they are standing at the Vogel, the security forces answer that they are “carrying out public control.”
The last point on Suvorovsky Prospekt was closed due to a denunciation by Timur Bulatov. When we had an evening of letters to political prisoners in support of actionist Pavel Krisevichanti-covid measures were in effect and it was impossible to gather more than 20 people for events.
Because of this, we started a conflict with the landlord and we had to close the outlet.
However, when the police came along with Rospotrebnadzor, we even counted 38 people together with them. Camera footage has been preserved, which shows that there were no more than 45 people in the hall.
– How did you understand that Timur Bulatov wrote the complaint?
— Bulatov himself writes on his page on VKontakte that they came to Vogel on his denunciation. We did not find any other evidence. But, knowing his experience, we believe that this is him.
The complaint was shown to us only in court, although they should have done this before the start of the check. But we didn’t argue because of the presence of the police.
From the text of the statement, it seems that the person wrote a review on Ozon or Wildberries. There are a lot of angry interjections and curses and a strange style in general. In it, a person very vividly describes his feelings and sensations after each spoon. He writes: “From the first spoonful of soup, I felt that something was wrong.”
We also found an important inconsistency there. The man writes that he felt bad for three or four hours after dinner with us, but then he says that he drove from the bar on the Fontanka to Vasileostrovskaya and an ambulance came to him half an hour later. These activities take less than four hours.
Interestingly, a real check was attached to the complaint – we even checked. Indeed, on November 24, a man came to us and ordered lunch: kupaty with potatoes, onion soup, and two beers. But I, as a person who set up the entire kitchen from scratch, can say that it was almost impossible to get poisoned by this – we have been preparing these positions for a long time.
– How did Bulatov put pressure on Vogel before?
— He attacked the bar three times. The first time he called us on the eve of May 9, 2021. We wanted to show a patriotic Soviet film like “The Dawns Here Are Quiet”. But Bulatov asked if we were arranging something unpatriotic. As if we were planning to show films that denigrate May 9th. Who told him this is unknown.
Then there was a denunciation in October [2021-го] on alleged non-compliance with anti-covid measures and the current one. It seems to him that the bar is “gay” who share “non-traditional values.”
At the same time, he did not threaten me personally or my colleagues. I don’t think that Bulatov even knows about our existence. In fact, our team is upset that for some reason the media mention the famous “geefighter” more than his victims.
— Have many of your regular visitors left Russia?
Yes, many have left. We were even afraid that we would not be able to continue working. But later they noticed that there were also many people left, and some of those who left returned. Now we have enough audience to work with.
There is also an audience that has not yet learned about us. We exist for a year and a half, but many of our potential clients have not reached us yet.
— How has your work changed since February 24?
– On February 24, we have not yet opened on the Fontanka, but have already closed on Suvorovsky. But the conflict did not affect our plans in any way and we opened in the middle of summer. We are positive guys: nothing will break us. After February 24, we began to work only harder.
We opened during the season and did a good job of it. Activities began immediately. The audience was happy that we were back.
– Why did you decide to stay in St. Petersburg?
– As one of my colleagues said: “It’s more fun here.” My colleagues and I didn’t even think about leaving. We don’t want to give up everything. Who, if not us, will carry out such an important project for the city. Everyone will leave, and what will be left here?
— How do you see the future of the project and its creators?
We literally live for today. Planning anything is hard. But we will definitely fight to the victory.
Now we are filing an appeal against the court decision to suspend our work and are promptly correcting all violations that Rospotrebnadzor found. We will present everything in court – and come what may. In theory, the decision can be canceled if the goal was only our intimidation. If the goal is to crush us, then we will try to survive these two months of downtime.
– What do you need to survive this time if the appeal does not change the decision of the court?
We need support – we we are leading fundraising for the bar. At the very beginning, the team invested their own funds from the savings, and now they are almost gone.
We have to work two jobs. There is almost no profit from the bar, especially now. For example, I work two jobs and, on top of that, I study at a university.
The project is socially important, people need its existence. We donate money, and we are very grateful to everyone.