The Russian Tea Room is an Art Deco Russo-Continental restaurant, located at 150 West 57th Street (between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue), between Carnegie Hall Tower and Metropolitan Tower, in the New York City borough of Manhattan.
The Russian Tea Room was opened in 1927, by former members of the Russian Imperial Ballet, as a gathering place for Russianexpatriates and became famous as a gathering place for those in the entertainment industry. The founder is often considered to be Polish-born Jacob Zysman, but in that year, a corporation directory lists Albertina Rasch as the president, and her name appears along with Russian Art Chocolate and Russian Tea Room, in early photographs of the shopfront at 145 W. 57th St. In 1929, the business moved across the street to its present location, which at that time was an Italianatebrownstone, built in 1875 by German immigrant John F. Pupke, a tea and coffee merchant, whose son later moved the large clan to Long Island, seeking a more relaxed lifestyle.
In 1955, the restaurant was purchased by Sidney Kaye, who, in 1967, left the restaurant to his widow, Faith Stewart-Gordon.
In 1981, Harry B. Macklowe, the developer of Metropolitan Tower immediately to the east, planned a large office tower that would have included the sites of the current Metropolitan Tower, Russian Tea Room, and Carnegie Hall Tower immediately to the west. If the three sites were combined, this could allow a 51-story tower with 1 million square feet (93,000 m2). Macklowe had offered Stewart-Gordon $12.5 million for the building’s air rights in 1982. However, Stewart-Gordon refused several offers to acquire her building, so Macklowe withdrew his bid for the Carnegie Hall Tower site in 1983. Though Stewart-Gordon subsequently considered selling the restaurant building, she ended up not selling the building or its air rights to Carnegie Hall Tower’s developers. As a result, Metropolitan Tower and Carnegie Hall Tower are only separated by the Russian Tea Room, which is 20 feet (6.1 m) wide.
In December 1996, Warner LeRoy, who owned Tavern on the Green, bought the restaurant from Stewart-Gordon for $6.5 million and closed it down, much to the despair of New York high society. After four years and $36 million in renovations, it reopened, but it was never the same; it closed with little notice on Sunday, July 28, 2002, after declaring bankruptcy. LeRoy’s health was failing. Also, the local economy did not recover quickly enough to make payments on the substantial loans for the renovations.
After Warner LeRoy died in 2001, his estate sold the property for $16 million to the United States Golf Association in December 2002. The Association had planned to reconfigure the property as a dining room and museum in which to showcase its extensive collection of golf memorabilia, but instead sold the building in 2004 to Sheila Vanderbilt’s RTR Funding Group. The 20-foot-wide building extends from 57th Street (the restaurant’s main entrance) to 56th Street. The plans are to replace some of the current building facing 56th Street with a 29-story condominium, which is to be designed by Costas Kondylis. The original restaurant will be kept undisturbed.
The Russian Tea Room reopened on November 1, 2006. The restaurant’s interior has not been touched, and the over-the-top decor is the same as when it closed in 2002. However, several restaurant reviews have noted that the food and service leave significant room for improvement.