The Russian Tea Room: The Continental Man (Story by R.C. Peris)

1927. If we are to be technical about the birth of the place. And nearly all humans are susceptible to the lure of beginnings. That is why the Bible states, “In the beginning…”. 150 West 57th Street. Manhattan. If we are to be technical as to the location of a place. And nearly all humans are susceptible to geography. That is why the Bible states, “In Eden…”

The Russian Tea Room. It was founded by former dancers with the Russian Imperial Ballet. The Russians do so love ballet. It became a place for Russian expatriates to gather, drink Vodka, eat Slavic food heavily influenced by French techniques, and to seek a brand of cultural conversation, like those old European Salons, that was nearly absent in the USA. The Russian Tea Room grew in popularity and now it still juts out on 57th Street with its red awning with hints of something mysterious, luxurious and intellectual.

I am a man of the Continent. I was born in Paris, raised in Sorrento and then Rome, schooled (partially) in Berlin, skied in Switzerland, attended Eton, wintered in Barcelona, attended the Sorbonne, then Cambridge, moved back to Paris, did business in Dusseldorf, and then began traveling extensively to St. Petersburg. I now reside in London. Belgravia. The only European country I have not been to is Finland. Awful weather though I hear the people are quite civil despite being ground zero for the Yanks and the Soviets during the Cold War.

I am of a certain age. I have particular tastes. I have lunch, every day, at the Russian Tea Room when I am in New York City.

I have lovers. I am a man of the Continent. Continental men have lovers, discuss socialism over expensive Brandy, read arcane literature, and find history, even the massacres, to be a tinge funny. But we do have our facts straight.

“Will you be dining alone?” asks the waiter in a crisp white jacket. I can hear a faint Russian accent. He probably moved to Brighton Beach in his teens.

“No. A lady shall be joining me. Bring tea service and a caviar tasting.”

“Very good, sir.”

When the waiter walked off I saw her. She was wearing preposterously high heels and wobbling a bit. She was like a newborn gazelle. As she got closer I realized time had not been gentle to her. There were strong lines on her face. Her hair and clothes were immaculate.

“Oh, Robert…” She pronounced it the French way. R-O-B-E-A-R.

“Darling,” I stood up and kissed both her cheeks. “I thought you might fall in those heels.”

She waves her hand dismissively and sits in the red leather booth. “Twenty years of ballet…my feet are always painful.”

“But why the towering heels?”

“Dear Robert, women must wear them if they wish to be fucked.”

I glance at the table next to ours. Two ladies were slurping borscht and don’t look up.

“I’ve ordered tea. Caviar.”

“Oh, I want Dushbar too. And salmon gravlax. Perhaps some Kulebyaka too. And vodka.”

I raise my eyes. “I’ve never seen you eat so much food.”

“Robert…the last time you saw me I was a ballet dancer. I lived on air and celery.”

“And now…”

“I have a ballet studio. You know that. But I do need a check. For tuition. Very important.”

“Can we at least finish lunch before talk of money?” I smoothed my green and gold tie.

“Do you want to a see a picture of her?”

I stare at the gleaming silverware. “Not really.”

“She’s your daughter.” Natasha’s eyes were cold. The blue summer skies turned frigid.

“Isn’t it enough I pay for her schooling?”

Natasha shrugs.

I pick up my butter knife for no reason. “Will she go into the ballet?”

Natasha laughs. “No. Not if I have a choice in the matter. She plays the violin and reads Lemony Snickett. She likes pink and unicorns. She likes going to the doctor. She finds what doctors and nurses do interesting. We’ve discussed medical school.”

“No doubt, I will have to pay. Well…she’s thirteen.”

“Her school is advanced. They are already preparing them for professional careers. Will we still fuck before I get the check?”

I might have blushed. “Why not?” I laugh. “A little coitus before I sign the check.”

Natasha shrugs again and then they served the caviar. Natasha orders half the menu with a nearly full mouth.

2005. If we are to be technical about the birth of my daughter. I’ve never seen her. I likely will never see her. But I pay. I pay. Men of the continent pay for their mishaps. In between socialism, brandy, and laughing at history.


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