While in Moscow, I went to the store around 11:30pm to buy some beer, and the cashier checked her watch and said no.
Why am I not allowed to buy alcohol at the store after 11pm in Russia?
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It's a law that's designed to reduce public drunkenness / alcoholism, especially at night when you don't want loud, rowdy and sometimes violent drunk people in the streets. Sometimes vendors try to circumvent these laws by selling e.g. a very expensive plastic cup that comes with a free can of beer when you buy it : ), but there have been crackdowns on such things, I don't know how the current situation is and I suspect it varies from city to city (and I've seen that in some places the locals who are prone to drinking know very well how to still get alcohol after the cut-off time). By the way, if you think that not selling alcohol after 11 is strange, check out the "no alcohol on the 1st day of the month" law in Mongolia!
See e.g. this site (in Russian) which talks about the restriction on alcohol sales, including beer, from 11pm to 8am, Russia-wide, except for cafes/bars/restaurants and duty-free stores.
Rules regarding alcohol production, sales and consumption are governed by Federal law N 171-ФЗ. Chapter II article 16 paragraph 5 says:
- Не допускается розничная продажа алкогольной продукции с 23 часов до 8 часов по местному времени, за исключением розничной продажи алкогольной продукции, осуществляемой организациями [...] услуг общественного питания, а также розничной продажи алкогольной продукции, осуществляемой магазинами беспошлинной торговли.
Basically, only public catering facilities (like restaurants and bars) and duty-free shops can legally sell alcohol in Russia between 11pm and 8am. Note that in many regions restaurants and bars are only allowed to serve you alcohol to be consumed on site and are specifically forbidden to sell closed bottles.
Such laws are common around the world, not just Russia.
There are two dominant reasons for this.
The Russian Government is very concerned about alcoholism (Reference Article) and has passed laws restricting the sale to combat this.
Also, Blue Laws, as term used in the US, and also very common in other western countries, may be in effect locally. More here: Blue Laws
The reasons and traditions behind them might be different, but the effect is the same.
Either way, you can't buy beer after 11pm because it's against the law.
If you want to know the specific reason for the law where you are*, apart from the national statute, you can ask some of the locals. But expect many, especially younger, to not know. This definitely the case here in the US.
*In the US Blue Laws can and do change by State, County or City.