At 11:30 p.m. on a Friday, downtown's Fairlie-Poplar district is a ghost town. The homeless are tucked into doorways, many already asleep, unbothered by the Russian dance party happening underneath them. Tonight, the Mark Ultralounge is hosting "Moskow Diskow, Vol. 2," "a night of Slavic debauchery and Russian flavor." Outside the front door, an antsy fellow decked out in a black-and-white striped shirt, red ascot and "Flying Nun"-esque hat paces around, eyeing passers-by. He's Maxim Blinder, a local Ruskie DJ and party starter.
A thin girl in a well-decorated but oversized soviet military jacket collects the $10 cover for guys and nods people toward the stairs. On the landing below, a pair of Americans reel back after hitting a thick wall of cigarette smoke, the suffocating disregard for pulmonary health impossible to ignore. But the guys push through and head for the bar around the corner serving warm Imperia vodka shots.
The first-floor lounge is a narrow room lined with plastic pod seating and large, leather ottomans; a fitting companion to Kin-Dza-Dza!, the 1986 Russian sci-fi cult classic playing noiselessly on a series of flat screens lining the walls. While two wayward Russians meander through wildflowers in gas masks on TV, a cluster of dancers groove to Russian folk, rock and hip-hop. DJ Denis Burba, decked out like Blinder in his naval best, spins the music under a red banner calling the kids to "Dance like it's 1917," the year of the Russian Revolution, which ended tsarist rule.
It quickly becomes clear that bare midriffs are the night's subtheme, as countless ladies mingle shirtless from lower sternum to hip. Tight jeans show off thighs worthy of 14-year-olds, and strappy high heels push the women only slightly higher than the average teenybopper. Not to feel left out, a handful of men have left the top halves of their shirts unbuttoned, pecs and chains proudly displayed.
Shortly after midnight the downstairs dance floor opens up, and the party follows. Two levels below Poplar Street, the Mark feels like a subterranean lair. The cave is split in two – one half dedicated to the dance floor and the other to a glowing red lounge. Deep banquettes run up and down the craggy rock walls and remain mostly empty early on. Blinder's in the DJ booth now, playing modern Russian dance music. The set mainly consists of '80s hits, carefully remixed and hidden underneath layers of pulsing electronic beats. The banner above his head screams "Touch the Revolution!"
A brown bear, an amicable Russian symbol, pops up here and there throughout the night. Like any other club-goer, he makes his rounds, mingles with the crowd and eyes the dance floor. It's getting late, and the lounge's puckered benches begin to fill up. Midriff-bearing girls find laps to sit on, and one playfully snatches the khaki military cap from the head of her boy toy. While the night never quite reaches throbbing revolutionary ecstasy, it's certain the vodka will leave some heads aching the following morning.
The Mark Ultralounge. Mon.-Sat., 10 p.m.-2:30 a.m. 79 Poplar St. 678-904-0050. www.themarkatlanta.com.
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