The Infamous Sochi Drug-Testing Lab Is Now a Gastro Pub

At La Punto, the only allusions to the building’s dark past are embedded deep within the restaurant’s extensive cocktail menu.

SOCHI, Russia — The bartender at the restaurant here flipped a liquor bottle stylishly around his back and laid out the ingredients for a cerulean, absinthe-based cocktail that he garnished with a golden berry.

It was not so long ago that far different, far less palatable concoctions — urine, coffee grounds, table salt, to name a few choice ingredients — were mixed mere steps from where he stood.

The restaurant, La Punto, is a Sochi gastro pub recommended to fans on the World Cup website that just so happens to be in the same building that housed the notorious antidoping laboratory at the center of one of the most elaborate cheating schemes in sports history.

Here, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov — the chemist who ran drug testing in Russia for a decade, including at the 2014 Sochi Olympics — spent the overnight hours of those Games tampering with more than a hundred urine samples to conceal the widespread use of banned, performance-enhancing drugs among Russia’s top athletes.

This month, as another major international sporting event rolls through this city, the structure can be seen as a lingering symbol of the shadow from which Russian sports are still trying to emerge, a discomfiting monument to the dark art of doping.

But on Tuesday night, as fans packed the restaurant to watch Russia pound out a win over Egypt, the building that placed a pockmark on Russian sports suddenly became a place to celebrate it.

“It is an extremely positive thing,” Artyom Zhuk, 35, a sailor from Novorossiysk, said when asked about the building’s transformation at the World Cup. “We want people to come here, have fun and see that Russians are friendly.”

Minutes later, as if on cue, a nearby table with a dozen Panamanian fans started a chant of “Russia! Russia!” to acknowledge the home team’s surprise lead.

Children ran around the dining room, stopping only to get their faces painted white, blue and red by a restaurant staff member. Half a dozen drivers from the taxi stand outside craned their necks through the window to watch the action as the volume inside the restaurant intensified.

The only allusions to the building’s dark past are embedded deep within the restaurant’s extensive cocktail menu, where tipplers in the know might notice the B Sample — tequila, sambuca and Tabasco sauce. That is also the name of the supplementary urine sample required in Olympic drug testing.

“Is the B Sample yellow?” asked Richard McLaren, who spent much of 2016 investigating what had happened at the Sochi lab. (It is.)

“It effectively acknowledges some of the things that went on, but at the same time it trivializes it,” he added. “I get the humor in it.”

La Punto has two fashionable dining rooms connected by dank, dimly lit hallways, the very ones Rodchenkov surreptitiously roamed at night while executing the elaborate scheme to swap out dirty samples for clean ones. On Tuesday those hallways echoed with the pulse of dance music.

Most diners, even those well versed in the ins and outs of the melodramatic scandal, seemed unaware of the building’s sketchy past.

“I didn’t know that was in here!” said Karla Espinosa, a soccer fan from Panama City. “I’m going to take a picture so I can show my friends.”

World Cup fans have descended upon the restaurant in droves this month, drawn to the numerous large televisions, eclectic menu and friendly waiters, who were zipping around the room on Tuesday wearing full soccer uniforms, even down to the high socks.

They shuttled diverse plates around a packed room: heaps of grilled meat; solyanka, the thick Russian soup, served “Olympic style”; clams from Sakhalin, a Russian island near Japan, and oysters from Crimea. Pub classics like cheeseburgers were also served, with a pair of black latex gloves (a recent Russian dining trend) supplied to protect diners from gushing beef juice.

The absinthe-based cocktail is called Meldonium, the name of the banned substance that led to Maria Sharapova’s suspension from tennis.

Four years ago, Rodchenkov proudly created a cocktail known as the Duchess: a blend of three anabolic steroids mixed with Chivas Regal whiskey for men and Martini vermouth for women.

“The irony,” said Richard Pound, the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, who led an early investigation into Russian doping. Pound said he thought the doping scandal had cast a shadow over the World Cup, though “probably not as big or as dark a one as would be appropriate.”

The restaurant can joke about the building’s history, but Russian sports officials have had less humor about the scandal, for which the nation paid a $15 million fine this year. Russia’s track team remains barred from global competition, and the country’s antidoping operations have been decertified by international regulators.

As Russia is trying to ingratiate itself back into international sports community, some darkness lingers.

“I do think there is a shadow, still,” said Fernando Camacho, 24, a Mexico fan visiting Sochi from Chester, N.J. Camacho said being reminded about the scandal had a “sobering effect” on the otherwise cheerful festivities.

The drinks at the restaurant, judging from the wild cheers and celebrations that met the final whistle on Tuesday night, had the opposite effect.

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