First of all the building itself is a masterpiece of the art nouveau style. If you found yourself in the Nevsky Prospect you wouldn't overlook this elegant high building faced with polished granite and crowned with a glass sphere. There is a sign “Singer” above the main entrance. Yes, you are right. It is the same American Singer Company which is famous for its sewing machines. Before the Revolution Singer Company was not only the main supplier of the sewing machines in Russia but also made uniforms for the Russian Army. So there was nothing strange in their desire to have a grandiose office center in the Nevsky Avenue – the main street of the Russian capital. Who knows if they drank a delicious hot chocolate in a cafe of the Singer office center but we know for sure that it was the first business center in St Petersburg.
It could have been the first skyscraper in Russia for Americans wanted an 11-storey building to be contracted, but there were very strict restrictions in St Petersburg. Any building couldn't exceed 23,5 meters in height till its cornice. It was architect Pavel Suzor who helped Singer Company to solve their problem. He suggested to decorate the Singer House with a graceful tower crowned with a glass globe – sphere that gave an illusion of height. The idea of such a strange for that time decoration of the roof just opposite the classical cupola of the Cazan Cathedral provoked a lot of discussions. The City Council was against the project. Fortunately the Academy of Arts provided Suzor with its support and thanks to their good taste now we can drink a cup of coffee or hot chocolate with a delicious dessert enjoying a great view through the tremendous windows of Cafe Singer.
Being an American company Singer has a name that sounds as a German one. It was the German sounding name that during the WW1 stirred up a kind of suspicion that the company was spying for Germany. Trying to emphasize its American origin the company gave the ground floor of their building to the American Embassy but not for a long time. The Revolution expulsed both the Embassy and the company giving the building for the needs of different publishing houses of a newly born socialist country. Later the first two floors were given to the central bookstore of the city which became known as “Dom Knigi” (House of Book).
If you don't know well St Petersburg and just decided to drink some coffee in the center you would hardly find Cafe Singer by chance in spite of its central location. Why? The Cafe takes up only some place on the first floor of the building. Entering you find yourself in a large bookstore with thousands of books all around you and you scarcely would imagine that there is one of the most atmospheric cafes just above your head.
There is a kind of joke we have here concerning everlasting competition of St Petersburg and Moscow. It says:
When in Moscow you are constantly coming across a great variety of different places to eat. When in St Petersburg you have bookstores and optician's wherever you go.
We are really fond of books here in St Petersburg, our bookstores are open till very late, some of them are open day and night. Sometimes you look in at a bookstore for a minute and stay there for hours. That's why it was a good idea to combine bookstores with cafes. We have a number of bookstores of the type but the most famous is the Cafe Singer combined with the oldest bookstore in the city.
Cafe Singer is not advised as a cheap one but it is really one of the most interesting and unusual places in St Petersburg. It is the very place where you can obtain a clear idea of what St Petersburg really is. It is its architecture, climate and people that you see through the grand panoramic windows in combination with books, representing all the knowledge and culture of the humanity. If you are in St Petersburg come to this place and don't forget the cafe's specialty – a hot chocolate a delicious dessert with a variety of toppings. It is so thick that you need a spoon to eat it.