The text opens with the narrator thoroughly describing the Nevsky Prospekt at different times during the day. The descriptions stops at night when two characters are introduced to the story. The two characters are two very different men, a romantic young artist Piskarev, and a realist, Lieutenant Pirogov. That night on Nevsky Prospect, both men decide to try their luck with women.
The first part of the story is concerned with the artist Piskarev, who spots a young and beautiful girl and falls in love with her instantly. Piskarev follows her home, but when he arrives at the final destination he is startled, as he finds out that the noble and chaste creature he is captivated by does not live in a beautiful townhouse but in a brothel. Upon the terrifying sight Piskarev leaves. When he arrives home he dreams of his beloved as of rich and refined lady. After he wakes up, Piskarev becomes preoccupied with the dream and eventually develops insomnia, which he tries to cure with opium, so he can continue dreaming. One day he dreams of the pretty girl as his wife. Consequently he resolves to go to the brothel and ask her to marry him. However, the girl is more vulgar than ever and mocks Piskarev, who is unable to take it and slits his throat when he arrives home. When his funeral is supposed to take place nobody shows up.
Secondly, the narrator tells the story of Lieutenant Pirogov who decides to pursue a beautiful blonde the same night. As Piskarev, Pirogov also follows the object of his attention home. As it turns out, the blonde is married to Shiller, the German tinsmith. The newly discovered facts do not prevent Pirogov from attempting to achieve his goals, so he returns when Shiller is out drinking, and tries to seduce his wife. Unfortunately for Pirogov, drunk Shiller returns home to find his with in the arms of another men, and with the help of his other German friends he gives Pirogov a proper beating. At first, Pirogov is enraged and vengeful, but with time he calms down by returning to his regular life of eating pastries and attending dances.