March 5, 2020

Russian Aeronautics and Space Travel Set the Theme at Moscow’s Cafe Polet by Asthetíque

Located just outside Moscow, Khodynka Field is where Russian aviation was born. The nation’s first powered aircraft took off there in 1910 and the large open space became Khodynka Aerodrome. Although the airport, which functioned under various names during the 20th century, closed down sometime after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its legacy lives on. And now a nearby restaurant by Asthetíque pays homage to the area’s aeronautical heritage. 

Black-birch paneling and stainless-steel doors channel Russian constructivism in the first dining zone at Moscow’s Cafe Polet by Asthetíque. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

Created by restaurateurs Kira Baybakova and Alexey Gubkin, Cafe Polet (Russian for flight) finds myriad ways to evoke the distinct forms and flavors of Soviet-era aviation and its extension into outer space. The theme of flight is, of course, front and center: Little stainless-steel aircraft silhouettes, mounted on stands, serve as table numbers or, affixed to a circular column and individually backlit, conjure some jet-age lepidoptery display; glass-dome portholes bring to mind space-shuttle windows or cosmonauts’ helmets; and the entry’s striped concrete floor mimics the painted markings on an airport runway—“taking the idea of a landing strip, but then modernizing it,” Asthetíque founder and creative director Julien Albertini says.

Based on classic science fiction movies, Sergei Sudakov’s sculpture brings a human dimension to the restaurant’s aeronautical theme. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

Albertini and co-founder and co-creative director Alina Pimkina balance these easy-to-read aeronautical references with elements derived from 20th-century art and architecture, most importantly, Russian constructivism. An art movement that originated just before the 1917 Revolution and soon expanded into architecture, constructivism combined abstract geometrical forms, technological methods, and industrial materials to produce dynamically futuristic, socially conscious works. Cafe Polet shines with characteristically angular, visually energized constructivist details. “We were trying to shed light on the beauty of Russia and its history,” Albertini continues. In fact, one of the 6,800-square-foot restaurant’s most striking elements—a bas-relief wall panel that depicts abstract aircraft taking off like rockets—artfully fuses aeronautical and constructivist themes. Seemingly solid concrete, the slab is actually made of plywood mounted on MDF board and coated with a thick layer of plaster; strategically placed LED backlighting makes the sculpting appear even more three-dimensional. 

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In reception, table numbers in the form of stainless-steel aircraft silhouettes stand under a glass-dome porthole. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

“The idea was to take aeronautics beyond the machine level, to show humans taking flight.”

Overall, the restaurant’s range of references feels surprisingly eclectic. Fluted columns flanking a waiter station near the entry, for instance, bear a pair of nearly 12-foot-tall winged female figures with a gleaming silver-paint finish. Soaring beings inspired by classic science-fiction movies, these stylized, faceted forms variously suggest cubist sculptures, art deco bronzes, or Soviet heroic monuments. “The idea,” Albertini says, “was to take aeronautics beyond the machine level, to show humans taking flight.”

Beneath the custom stainless-steel reception desk, striped concrete flooring evokes the markings painted on an airport runway. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

“We were working with a large site with high ceilings and huge windows,” Pimkina adds. “The aesthetics of the space age were a great inspiration in dealing with it.” Although the vast main dining area is open plan, the designers use columns and trellises covered with ivy to break it up into an enfilade of seven smaller zones, including a coffee shop with its own street entrance. Each section is further distinguished by its furnishings and fixtures, many of which were custom designed for the project. (The chairs are going into production, available through Asthetíque next year.) The first dining zone is outfitted with pink marble-topped tables paired with what the firm dubs the Penguin chair due to its chunky, velvet-upholstered profile. The following  three dining areas all feature the Sailor Moon chair—so named because its perky crescent-shape backrest resembles the headpiece of the famous Japanese anime character—upholstered in smoke-gray, ink-blue, or pale-pink velvet according to location. 

In the second dining zone, custom chairs, tables, and banquettes are backed by ivy-covered trellises. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

Overhead, the light fixtures differentiate areas too. There are large ceiling-hugging brass-edged glass disks arranged in ordered rows like a squadron of flying saucers in the first zone, clear-glass globe pendants hung at varying heights like a solar system of transparent planets in the second zone, and pink glass disks suspended at vertiginous angles like spacecraft in an intergalactic ballet in the fourth. They’re all supplemented with ambient cove and backlighting to soften the ambience.

Oak flooring with brass inserts, custom velvet-upholstered Cosmos armchairs, and a mural featuring quotations about flight, all custom, meet in the private dining room. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

Indeed, despite the Star Wars vibe, the color palette at Cafe Polet is remarkably calm—dusky pinks, wispy grays, subtle blues—in line with what Albertini sees as a strong trend. “There’s a huge push for pastels,” he says. Their deployment here is part of a constant tension throughout the space between hard-edged assertion and low-key modulation. “When you blend those two things together, you get a really interesting style. You have some feminine tones, but you also have this masculine strength that brings a natural balance.”

The coffee shop also has a custom mural. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

It’s safe to say that Cafe Polet’s mix of references, tones, materials, and colors has more than met the client’s request that the restaurant be catnip for social media. If the constructivist bas-relief or the pair of towering space goddesses don’t do it for Instagrammers, there’s a plethora of other vistas and vignettes that will. And surely those who make it to the private dining room—one of only two enclosed spaces—will have difficulty not snapping the frieze of flight-related quotations painted in dramatic silver on its black walls. As the words attributed to Leonardo da Vinci put it: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Keep scrolling to view more images of Cafe Polet >

The Russian constructivist theme is most purely expressed in the second dining zone with a bas-relief panel of plaster-coated plywood. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.
Sergey Gravchikov chairs face another custom mural in the coffee shop. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.
A custom con­crete sink serves the men’s bathroom. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.
Custom velvet-upholstered chairs face a concrete-plastered structural column, on which little stainless-steel airplane silhouettes are mounted and backlit. Photography by Mikhail Loskutov.

Project Team: Ilya Mozgunov; Anna Lutaeva; Denis Kleimenov: Asthetíque. Handle Studio; Sfera Decora: Lighting Consultants. Newtonesys: Audiovisual Consultant. SK Pilot: HVAC Consultant.

Product Sources: SV One: Custom Doors (First Dining Zone), Custom Table Numbers (Reception), Aircraft Installation (Second Dining Zone), Custom Brass Moldings (Restroom). Dios-Décor: Custom Curtains (First Dining Zone). Newstile Kovka: Trel­lises (First Dining Zone), Brass Table Base (Private Dining Room). Unika Møblär: Chairs (Coffee Shop). Design Mixtura: Custom Sink (Restroom). Kludi: Sink Fittings. Throughout: H&M Home: Vases. Horeca Master: Custom Chairs, Custom Tables, Custom Banquettes. Decoartmos: Custom Murals, Plasterwork. Finoarte: Custom Metalwork, Glasswork, Concrete Flooring. Euro Trend: Oak Flooring.

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