Looking back on 25 years of Moscow on the Hill before their 3-day anniversary party
Reprinted from City Pages
When your author was but a baby bird, it was the folks at St. Paul’s Moscow on the Hill who taught me how to not just drink—but enjoy—vodka. As the Cathedral Hill temple of Russian cuisine rounds the bases on 25 years in business this weekend, I’m certain I’m not alone in this.
These folks are the Libermans: founding husband-and-wife team Marina and Naum, plus their eldest son Eugene, who now acts as the restaurant’s general manager. Together, they decided to commemorate the restaurant’s unlikely path to success by celebrating their customers for three consecutive nights, beginning this Sunday.
During this time, patrons will have the choice between any of their 19 (!) specially infused vodkas with their dinner, on the house. For the uninitiated, options range from pepper- to tiramisu-infused vodka, and include complex and savory flavors like garlic and dill—your author’s favorite.
“Each brick on our building was paid by our customers, so they made it,” said Marina, explaining the thought behind such a magnanimous anniversary gesture involving so much free vodka.
After all, the Lieberman’s didn’t set out to open a restaurant. “This is a true story, and I don’t know what word to use instead of… stupid, but it was really stupid idea,” laughed Marina and Eugene while catching up with City Pages in advance of the festivities.
A little restaurant became the ticket. “At the bottom of the list [of business ideas] was a French restaurant called Quail on a Hill. So we decided to have a lunch at Quail on a Hill. My husband, he’s the smartest one, he looked around and said ‘Marina, why don’t we buy it?’” she laughs. “It’s not a story for the business school! It’s the story for how to survive.”
For years, despite no formal chef or restaurant experience, they operated the restaurant exactly as it was—which happened to be French. Marina said back when they opened, “There were not so many Russians in the Twin Cities and the majority of people didn’t know the difference between Russian accent and a French accent, so we were perfectly French! It was a lot of funny stories, when people come and hear my beautiful Russian accent and tell me their experience in France.”
Only later did they pivot to “representing where they came from,” via epic pelmeni, Chicken Kiev, a stroganoff Marina once successfully prescribed to induce labor in a regular… and schooling Minnesotans on the ins and outs of vodka.
“We just want to say thanks,” says Eugene. “For a restaurant to successfully endure 25 years is a rarity. It’s really not something we could have done on our own. We owe a lot to our customers, our staff, the neighborhood, and really, to a very welcoming Minnesota.”