Opened in 1911 on New Year’s Eve at Mikhailovckaya Ploshchad in St. Petersburg, The Stray Dog was Russia’s first ever literary and artistic cellar. Until 1915, it was a meeting place for poets and performances like Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Boris Pasternak, and many others.
The story goes that writer Alexei Tolstoi gave the cellar its name as he and others looked for a cultural refuge in the city, saying “Why are we running around like stray dogs?” And the name stuck.
The Stray Dog attracted those who would eventually become a major part of Russia’s history of the Silver Age, leaving a deep imprint on world culture. It was a place for many followers of the emerging acmeist and futurist literary movement, who rejected the symbolist school of thought. Their ideals were compactness of form and clarity of expression.
The poet Akhmatova depicted the Silver Age era in a large part of her works. Futurist writer Mayakovsky started his creative path at the Stray Dog, where he read his poetry in public for the first time. Time spent at the cafe became a period of searching for new rhythms and dynamics for him. For Akhmatova’s friend and fellow poet Osip Mandelshtam, the Stray Dog was associated with the heights of European classicism.
Stray Dog Café closed in 1915 because of World War 1, which surprised many regulars who were creatively preoccupied. During both world wars, the cellar was used as a bomb shelter and it was only in the perestroika era that it became possible to talk about resurrecting the Stray Dog Café. Local enthusiast Vladimir Sklyarsky spent years working on reconstructing it with the help of photographs. After 12 years, the cafe reopened in 2001. Sklyarsky died a year before the Stray Dog reached its 100th birthday. Today, the Stray Dog hosts literary evenings, exhibitions and concerts.