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Restaurateur Warner LeRoy Revives the Russian Tea Room

Thomas Matthews
Posted: August 16, 1999

The Russian Tea Room, which served as a clubhouse for the New York arts community from its opening in 1927 until it closed in 1995, will reopen in October under the aegis of restaurateur Warner LeRoy, who also runs Central Park's Tavern on the Green, the nation's highest-grossing restaurant.

LeRoy tore down the small building next to Carnegie Hall that formerly housed the Russian Tea Room and built a new seven-story showcase for his fantasy on Russian themes. Three different dining environments are decorated with arts and crafts created specifically for the restaurant by artists around the world. LeRoy estimated the cost of the new building at $15 million, plus an additional $15 million for the interiors.

The cuisine, like the decor, will pay homage to the wide range of cultures that have influenced Russia throughout history. "We've done a lot of research translating recipes from the Russian, and we have several consultants," said LeRoy. "French-Russian cooking was a very important part of Russian cuisine, but not all of it by a long shot. The Russian empire embraced cuisines around the world, from Scandinavia to Japan and India to Mongolia. Its amazing, vast. We are making a new cuisine that never really existed before, and it will amaze people, I know it."

LeRoy first worked with chef David Bouley to develop this new cuisine, but their partnership broke up. LeRoy then selected Fabrice Cannelle, previously of the Brasserie Savoy in the Hotel Savoy in San Francisco, to run the kitchen.

The new wine director for both the Russian Tea Room and Tavern on the Green is Don Castaldo, who has worked at Crabtree's Kittle House Inn in Chappaqua, N.Y. -- which holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list -- and for Tony Mays restaurant group, which includes New York's San Domenico. Castaldo envisions an opening wine list of about 300 selections, which will be international in scope but will have a special emphasis on Champagnes and at least a small selection from Russian and eastern European producers.

LeRoy hopes the new restaurant can marry the high culture of the former incarnation with the broad appeal of Tavern on the Green. "I think the new RTR will be a mix of different elements," he said, explaining that during lunch, the first floor will keep its clubby feeling and reach out to the arts community. In the evenings, he expects the second and first floors to cater to a mixed group, including some of the tourist crowd that Tavern attracts.

"I don't want an 'in' restaurant," LeRoy elaborated. "I believe in the concept of the grand cafe, and that is about an exciting mix, and that's what I want. The trick is to preserve the clubhouse part of it while at the same time opening it up to a new audience. Its a tricky thing to do, but that's my goal."

The Russian Tea Room
150 West 57th St.
New York, N.Y. 10019
Telephone: (212) 974-2111

To learn more about Warner LeRoy:

  • April 30, 1998
    Restaurateur Hall of Fame

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