Sidney Kaye. RTR. Naughty Noises.

January 5th, 2011 § 1 comment

Sidney Kaye was a tough, funny, erudite New Yorker. He bought the Russian Tea Room (originally a tea room hangout for Russian emigrees but turned into a restaurant by Sidney) in 1955 and ran it in singular fashion until his death in 1967. His widow, Faith Stewart-Gordon, took charge of it for a number of years before its eventual sale and transformation into an ornate fancy-schmancy joint that HG has never entered.   Sidney and the RTR  were original and eccentric.  An example: One winter he decorated the room with Christmas decorations. He liked them so much they never came down. Winter or summer it was always Christmas at the RTR. Another example: Service could sometimes be spotty since a number of the waitpersons were ancient former Russian ballerinas whose careers had flourished in Czarist days. Sidney would never dream of replacing them (the Grim Reaper did the job). Another example: There was no Siberia at RTR. Every table was a good table but the best tables were the three rounded red leather banquettes on the left, facing the bar, as you entered. The first table was occupied by a ballet critic Sidney disliked. When HG asked Sidney why the critic got a favored table, Sidney replied: “I dislike the man but his taste in dance is impeccable.”   Second table went to Robert Herridge, producer of TV dramas.  HG once tried to brain him with a cast iron pan before being restrained.  But, that’s another story.  Third table went to HG. Why?   HG will never know. The RTR was (and is) located on W. 57th Street a few footsteps east of Carnegie Hall.  HG’s offices were directly across the street so the RTR was HG’s place for late breakfast, lunch, post-work vodka.  The HG charge account would grow to astronomical proportions but Sidney never blinked. “You are the least of my worries,” he would say. An incident from HG’s 57th Street days. The building manager leased the offices adjacent to HG to a number of ladies who vigorously disciplined gentlemen who paid lavishly for punishment. These were very noisy neighbors and interfered with HG’s business operations. HG complained. As a compromise, one of HG’s neighbors offered a solution. She would punish HG gratis. HG declined. Police entered the situation. HG’s neighbors departed. Peace and quiet prevailed on floor 14. Back to RTR and Sidney Kaye. The food was Russian and delicious. Favorite starter was Eggplant Oriental  (chopped eggplant and tomatoes with flavors heightened by olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and Hungarian paprika). Then there was robust borscht, topped with sour cream and accompanied by flaky pierozhki (meat filled pastries). Other great dishes: Blini with red caviar, sour cream and melted butter; karsky shashlik (lamb cutlets with rice pilaf); pelmeny (Caucasian meat filled ravioli served in a strong chicken consomme with lots of dill, sour cream and mustard sauce). HG once saw Jackie Onassis and Mike Nichols order seconds of this heavenly stuff. Of course, there were the usual Russian crowd pleasers like Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Kiev. Dessert: Raspberry Kissel, a fruit and whipped cream concoction. To drink: A good wine selection including a nicely priced Pommard; ten flavors of iced vodka; strong tea served in a glass with cherry preserves (just as my father, Harry Freeman, liked it). The RTR catered to a lively crowd of musicians (from Carnegie Hall), theater people (including a goodly number of stars); dealers in antiques and art; managers, agents and producers of all types and levels of competence. A nice buzz. There was one thing Sidney wouldn’t tolerate. HG was having a vodka at the bar when a large man used the N-word. Sidney heard. He grabbed the man by the tie and a coat sleeve. He shouted: “We don’t serve bigots!!!” and literally threw him out the front door.   Sidney Kaye.  HG’s kind of a restaurateur..

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