The Mahala Trio serenades with Balkan folk tunes at Siberia — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
Being banished to Siberia isn’t a punishment in New Orleans. The alt club/dive bar at 2227 St. Claude Avenue (between Elysian Fields and Marigny) straddles St. Roch and the “New Marigny” neighborhoods, changing areas of artsy expression in New Orleans.
The bar is a live rock and roll music venue. Well, not really. It’s a Goth heavy metal venue. Okay, forget that: you can catch a Cajun band for sure. Or, if you’re lucky, you'll stumble upon a somber Balkans folk trio that inspires what looks like Greek dancing. And on Mondays, it’s comedy night.
Band names give little away. The Stunted Sextette sings bluesy, gypsy-inspired rhythms. The Unnaturals is a local surf band. Prince Pauper and Maddie Ruthless play reggae. And that’s just in a given week.
Of course the crowd is tatted and pierced, but that’s nothing unusual. There’s a lot of regulars, and, in general a convivial, live-and-let-live vibe that is one of the best things about this town when it really comes together. You’ll see a lot of the same faces at the Hi-Ho, Saturn Bar and the Allways - all edgy music and entertainment venues where anything goes.
Follow the glowing neon to Kukhnya for Slavic soul food — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
Gritty and dark - with a pool table, creepy taxidermy and beat-up tables and chairs - this is the kind of place that advertises a no-smoking show while the owner puffs away at the bar. When there isn’t something live happening on the compact stage, the jukebox is beyond eclectic. Oh, and the place could use a good scrubbing, naturally, which is why the low lighting is just perfect.
There’s more good news. Head to the back of the bar towards an odd-looking neon sign above a window that opens every day at 5 p.m. You’re at Kukhnya ("kitchen" in Russian), the Slavic soul eatery that dishes out hellaciously tasty Polish and Russian specialties at rock-bottom prices.
Belly up to the walk-up kitchen window and order some of chef Matt “the Hat” Ribachonek’s rib-sticking specialties. There are traditional dishes like golumpki - chubby cabbage rolls stuffed with mushrooms, carrots and rice and bathed in a slightly sweet tomato sauce - as well as made-to-order blinis (crepes) filled with the likes of apple and asparagus and chopped kielbasa.
Try a Russki burger topped with Russian dressing and mushrooms or the chef’s Polish take on the iconic po’ boy, which is stuffed with kielbasa and spicy kapusta (kraut) or grilled ham, French fries, cabbage and provolone. There are plenty of veggie options, too. The borscht comes (served hot or cold) topped with clouds of sour cream, and fried potato and cheese pierogies are presented with caramelized onions and sour cream. Paper plates and plastic utensils are the rule, and nothing on the menu is over $10. Wash down your meal with an icy brew or an expertly chilled martini, and it really doesn’t get any better.