Each of these groups has found its own watering hole. The art collectors roost at Sant Ambroeus on Madison. The finance crowd took a liking to Mari Vanna on 20th, near Park (the only restaurant in New York that’s actually a franchise of a Russian eatery). The barely-of-drinking-age set descends on Keith McNally’s Pravda, the only Russian-themed spot in town they deem unembarrassing (the nearby KGB Bar and the theater district’s FireBird are inexplicably regarded as “fake”). And assorted oligarchs have discovered the Waverly Inn: On a recent evening, former mining magnate Oleg Baibakov (with a young date) and Alexander Lebedev, the Aeroflot mogul who owns London’s Evening Standard and the Independent, were seen there independent of each other. (Ten years ago, this would have been a clear sign that the spot is toxic. It’s a testament to the Global Russians’ status that it’s not.) Online, groups of Global Russians are forever forming semi-secret societies. A few recent attempts included Nash Krug (Our Circle); CluMBA, catering to Russian banker types (its name means “flower bed” but also puns on both club and MBA); and Baby v Zakone, a female-lawyer group with a name roughly translatable as “Broads in Law.” The Samovar is as close to a clubhouse as this disparate, roving band has, but lately the role of the virtual clubhouse is being assumed by Snob. All sorts of people named in the last several paragraphs either belong to the club, contribute to the magazine, or have been profiled by it.
It was the girls, in a way, that made Mikhail Prokhorov into Russia’s second- richest man. Back home, his reputation as a playboy had been sealed in the mid-aughts. He was known for descending on Moscow’s wildest nightclubs with Gosha Kutsenko, a bald-headed, mildly freakish Russian film star he had befriended, with packs of coltish young things in tow. “It used to be that you go to certain clubs,” recalls one Muscovite, “and if at some moment about fifteen barely legal girls show up all at once, you could tell that Prokhorov is about to stop by.”
In January 2007, partying in Courchevel, he was briefly detained by the French police on suspicion of having flown in a planeful of alleged prostitutes for the party’s guests. Prokhorov was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the incident apparently upset Vladimir Potanin, Prokhorov’s longtime partner in his primary cash cow, Norilsk Nickel. In April 2008, the now-former friends split, and Prokhorov sold his Norilsk shares to another oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. His timing was downright charmed. Less than three months later, the financial crisis hit Russia. When the dust cleared, Norilsk’s stock had dropped 80 percent, Deripaska was $24.6 billion poorer, and Potanin lost a fortune, too. Prokhorov, meanwhile, was sitting on billions in uninvested cash—the best kind of investment in the chaos of late 2008.
Since then, Prokhorov’s interests have varied wildly. He has invested in low-cost hybrid cars, nanotechnology, and banks. He seemingly flirted with the governorship of a far-flung Russian province (Russian governors are appointed by the Kremlin, not elected), establishing tax residence in a tiny Siberian village. In 2009, Russia’s then-richest man paid his income tax—16 billion rubles, or roughly $550 million—out of snowy Yeruda, population 2,300.
Prokhorov’s interest in the Nets appears sincere enough. His father was a Soviet sports official, and Prokhorov is the head of the Russian Biathlon Union (he attended the Vancouver Olympics in that capacity). He played basketball himself in high school—because he was six-eight, it was practically an imperative—and invested in Moscow’s CSKA professional team before turning his attention westward. Prokhorov has already floated a $12 million to $15 million offer to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, openly plans to court LeBron James and other top free agents, and during his recent visit to the city promised to bring the team a “championship in five years.” He also hopes to raise the sport’s profile back in Russia and perhaps groom future stars there.
And yet buying the Nets and their arena was clearly a real-estate play as well. Prokhorov had already established himself as a major figure in the New York property market before the Atlantic Yards deal. In 2008, after developer Harry Macklowe defaulted on a $513 million loan from Deutsche Bank AG, the super-liquid Prokhorov swooped in and offered to buy the Park Avenue site in question for $250 million. “Guys like Prokhorov,” says a source who’s seen the bid, “are always looking to get in at opportunistic prices. They make extremely low offers that also happen to be all cash, which locals don’t do.” By the time Prokhorov turned his attention to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards, the project was in almost as much trouble as Macklowe’s. Only the infusion of Russian cash raised it from a coma.