The intimate space of red lamps, candles and beautiful music is easy to miss, as the Russian Vodka Room is somewhat hidden behind darkened windows. Luckily, my attention was piqued by the faint sounds of a piano floating out of the bar and onto the street. Walking in, I immediately noticed the huge glass vats of vodka with handfuls of fruit floating in them. This, the bar's manager informed me, is the restaurant's specialty: house-brewed, naturally infused Russian vodka. The flavors include cherry, raspberry, and apricot. In addition, 100 varieties of bottled vodka clamor for prominence behind the bar. The Russian Vodka Room also boasts a relatively diverse menu, with food "straight out of babushka's kitchen. "
Stepping inside this iconic restaurant, after having not been for quite some time, the first thing I noticed was the dazzling array of colors. Red and green conjured up images of a dramatic Christmas party and the gold-leafed ceiling reflected the large collection of samovars placed atop the booths. Almost every inch of wall space was covered in dance-themed art and photography, likely a tribute to the restaurant's 1927 founders, who were members of the Russian Imperial Ballet. Ken Biberaj, the Vice President, took the Manhattan Sideways team on a tour of the enormous restaurant, which includes three private dining rooms and seats up to 450 people. Upstairs, I marveled at the sixteen-foot crystal bear aquarium, filled with gold fish, and felt like I was walking into a fairytale. Back downstairs, I learned that the glass-encased decorative replicas of the Faberge eggs, were made entirely of sugar by Zhar-Ptitsa Troika. As the chef continued to present a variety of Russian dishes, I recalled my dinner some three decades ago where I tried chicken kiev for the first time. When I commented about the array of food including the warm buckwheat blinis, red borscht made with pickled beets, the house-cured salmon gravlax and the beef stroganoff, Ken was quick to respond, "People come to the Russian Tea Room for more than the food - they come for the whole experience. " Indeed, a meal or high tea at the Russian Tea Room can be a momentous event as visitors join a crowd that spans generations. We had the pleasure of joining Ken Biberaj and Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, to discuss the official launch of the. nyc web domain. Watch our interview here.
Mari Vanna is a Russian teahouse, restaurant, and bar that endeavors to transport its customers across space and time to a quaint, though incredibly vibrant, St. Petersburg of a bygone era. Or, perhaps more accurately, the owners of Mari Vanna sought to bring all cultural and material aspects of traditional Russian teahouses overseas to West 20th Street: the interior of the restaurant is covered entirely in quirky, charming assemblages of old Russian antiques, books, telephones, clocks, and handmade toys. Green plantings, pale pink walls, white doilies and hand-carved wooden surfaces throughout the space bring this Russian atmosphere to life. Mari Vanna is a wonderful, quiet respite to eat a daytime meal, but the heavily-stocked bar and multiple, enormous glass containers of fruit-infused vodkas are quite indicative of the raucous, high-spirited night scene that takes over the restaurant at night.