The Russian Tea Room, one of New York City’s most storied restaurants, turned 85 this year. In a city that never sleeps and boasts an ever-changing landscape, this is no small feat, especially if you consider that during a brief period in the early 2000s, the restaurant was sold to the United States Golf Association (see Heck?, What the), destined to become a museum of sorts for the iron-swinging set. If you’ve ever been to the Russian Tea Room (and, really, if you have not, you must go. Now. That’s a direct order.), you can understand the monumental loss this would have been to foodies and vodka connoisseurs everywhere, not to mention the city itself.
A cultural and culinary salon for an array of artists since opening its doors in 1927, the Russian Tea Room, or RTR, is also a touchstone for New Yorkers and guests from around the globe alike. From its early heyday as a stomping ground for Russian ex-pats and the likes of George Balanchine and Ayn Rand to its place as a dining destination for high society and Hollywood royalty, it remains one of the most recognizable restaurants in the world. It’s been featured in films including Manhattan, Sweet Smell of Success, Tootsie, The Turning Point, Big, Smurfs, and New York Stories, among others. It’s also influenced films: When Harry Met Sally was conceived at one of the restaurant’s posh booths. A favorite with television programs as well, you can see RTR’s signature dining room in episodes of Louie, Gossip Girl, Real Housewives of New York, and Real Housewives of New Jersey. The Russian Tea Room continues to attract celebrities and influencers, including Mariah Carey, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Anderson Cooper, Keira Knightly, Paul McCartney, Chris Noth, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Carlos Slim, to name a few. Some celebs got their start here; Madonna was a coat check girl just before she got her big break.
And yet, The Russian Tea Room isn’t resting on these lofty laurels. Beyond generously providing diners and tourists with a bottomless supply of the most coveted matchbooks in Manhattan, they offer a level of service and warmth that isn’t always typical of an establishment with such a notable reputation. Have you ever walked into a restaurant where it felt as though you were sort of inconveniencing the host with your mere presence? You can be certain you weren’t in the Russian Tea Room when that happened. The doting service provided at this fabled restaurant reminds you that the very best restaurants aren’t just about food — they’re about hospitality, too.
To wit, while hosting my in-laws for 11 (!) days, my nerves were wearing particularly thin after a long, cold day on the town. Fortunately, before they could fully fray, it was nearing cocktail hour — and we were nearing the Russian Tea Room. I dashed in a half a block ahead of my guests, flustered and breathing hard, hoping they could accommodate us, even though they were quite busy. “Of course!” I stood at the bar as the staff readied a grand table, catching my breath. Then, Igor the bartender asked me the most wonderful question: “Would you like a shot of vodka?” If I weren’t already married, I might have proposed to Igor then and there. Instead, I enthusiastically replied, “Yes, yes, I would!” One “Zа, Igor!” and a perfectly chilled shot of Jewel of Russia vodka later, I was, in the words of George Costanza, back, baby!
So, what’s new? A great deal, in fact. The Russian Tea Room revamps its menus seasonally. And, most recently, they have introduced several new services to delight diners of every age and appetite — at almost any time of day. Complete offerings include:
* Breakfast: The new New York power breakfast is here! Served Monday-Friday, from 7AM to 10AM, breakfast at the Russian Tea Room has everything you need to start your business day, from the classic to the contemporary. And, if you’ve got a group of six or more, for just $20 per person, you can have your own breakfast buffet. Now, isn’t that much better than Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
* Business Express Lunch: A favorite of midtown’s movers and shakers, the business express lunch is perfect for your next business lunch. Three courses for $40 include choices of RTR’s signature dishes as well as super-fresh salads.
* Lunch: Whether you’re counting calories or looking to enjoy a leisurely lunch, RTR has a dish to please all palates. From classic dishes to inventive salads, including smoked paddlefish salad and Vidalia onion salad and favorites like tuna nicoise and cobb salads, lunch here is the ideal way to make the most of midday.
* Afternoon Tea: Take a turn from First Lady Michelle Obama and First Kids Malia and Sasha and swing by for afternoon tea at RTR. With menus for every preference and dietary need, including traditional tea service, children’s tea, vegetarian tea, and gluten-free afternoon tea, as well as a carefully curated tea menu, afternoon tea at RTR is not to be missed.
* Pre-Theater/Post-Theatre: Got tickets to the hottest ticket in town? Have a dining experience worthy of an ovation! Available daily from 4:45PM to 6:15PM and 10PM-11PM, you can enjoy three sumptuous courses of traditional fare as well as lighter dishes for $60 per person.
* Dinner: A full menu is available. Insider’s tip: The chicken Kiev is so good that you wouldn’t mind getting butter all over your frock, but you don’t have to worry — your waiter slices it for you. Plus, no bib necessary.
And, let’s not forget my personal favorite: Drinks! The bar at the Russian Tea Room is stocked with the city’s most impressive vodka selection, and the bartenders mix a variety of super-chic cocktails (The Cavitini! The Moscow Mule! The Cosmonaut!). Bonus: If you’re there while an event is going on, you’ll have a very fashionable front-row seat as stylish partygoers ascend to RTR’s legendary upper floors (The Bear Lounge is a must-see, FYI), which are, by the by, perfect for hosting private events, from intimate dinner parties to opulent weddings and classy corporate events for up to 800 guests. When my best friend gets married, she is absolutely having her wedding here. I’m going to be her maid of honor, so I can say that with a fair amount of conviction.
Open every day, the Russian Tea Room is the perfect antidote *to* the everyday. Make a reservation — or just walk in through the revolving glass door for a drink, a nosh, tea, or a meal. And, if Igor asks you if you’d like a shot of vodka, even if you’re not with your in-laws, please say, “Da!”