Girls’ night out at the now-defunct Rasputin
What’s a Russian supper club? For our purposes, Russian supper clubs provide dinner-and-entertainment experiences in Brooklyn’s Russian speaking neighborhoods. The food and the type of entertainment vary, though you can expect the former to be plentiful and the latter to be kitschy. Supper clubs were popular in the U.S. in the 30s and 40s, and though they’ve never quite had a true resurgence, the concept has been heartily embraced by other cultures. Russian immigrants who settled in Brooklyn’s oceanside Brighton Beach neighborhood began opening these clubs in the late 70s and 80s. The oldest examples have remained gaudy time capsules of that era.
Where are they? The more established restaurants are located in Brighton Beach, with a few of the newer additions in Sheepshead Bay.
I’m not Russian; should I go anyway? Do you love serviceable, sometimes delicious Russian food? Do you love fun? What about dancing? How do you feel about kitsch and cheesy entertainment? Do you drink vodka? If these bring out positive associations, then you’re in for a treat.
Great! How do I pick a place? I’ve really only been to two, Tatiana, and the recently Fed-raided Rasputin. (And yes, that does make me an expert.) Though Rasputin is now, unsurprisingly, closed, Tatiana is still kicking. It’s one of the grande dames of Brighton, as is the nearby imposing National. I’d say both are good bets. Or, you can try relative newcomers Passage, Winter Garden Aqua Grill or Baku Palace.
Should I come with a Russian friend? Yes, if possible. They’ll be able to explain some of the traditional dishes and translate the ridiculous songs. If anything, having a Russian speaker present will help you communicate with waitstaff and busboys, some of whom don’t know a word of English. A friend at Tatiana wanted a new glass, repeated the word multiple times and even pointed to a nearby glass as an example only to have the waiter leave flummoxed and return with an English speaking cohort.
What do I wear? Your glitziest outfit. Dressing up for a Russian supper club is akin to dressing for a night out in Vegas or Atlantic City. For the ladies, anything short, tight, sparkly and designer label-clad. For the gentleman, a suit sans tie. If you have a gold chain necklace, all the better. I guess you can wear something understated, but this is more an experience than just a dinner-and-show, why not have fun with the clothes, too?
What do I bring? Liquor and wine. Enough for your entire party for the duration of the night. Many places are BYO and let you to bring in as much booze as you want. Neither of the ones I’ve been to charged a corkage fee, either. They don’t advertise their BYO policy, so be sure to call and inquire. Many also offer a free bottle of wine or vodka for every 10 people in your party. Plan accordingly. (In fact, at Tatiana, we were given TWO bottles of vodka, when we took too long deciding between the options presented.) There is absolutely no reason to pay for the overpriced alcohol.
What’s the food like? Good! Mostly. You can expect lots of salads, made with eggplant, or eggs and cubed potatoes, or tomatoes and cucumbers, or chilled seafood. Also, liver pâté, baked potatoes with mushroom and shashlik skewers. Maybe some sliced meats and lox. Main courses include grilled fish, chicken and lamb or duck. Pastry and fruit for dessert.
When do I go? Any time of year! Definitely on a Saturday night. Though more expensive, it’s also the most festive night.
Do I make a reservation? Yes, at least two weeks in advance, and it’s preferable to go with a large party for obvious reasons. When you call, make sure to ask for a table close to the stage and for one with an unobstructed view. Also, if you opt for a price fix banquet menu, which I suggest for ease-purposes, feel free to pick the cheapest option. It will be plenty of food, I promise. In fact, our first course at Tatiana was so extensive, we were sure they’d brought out the entire menu. For a Saturday night, this option is about $100, and is $15 to $30 less if you go Friday or Sunday.
When do I get there? Between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. is probably good, though you don’t want to get there too early since the music often doesn’t start until after 9 p.m. The best part? You have your table for the entire night.
What does a typical night look like? Oh, man. That’s a great question! What doesn’t happen? Cold appetizers are sitting on your table as you arrive. After you’ve been sitting a few minutes, they start to bring out the hot appetizers and offer you your free bottle of alcohol. This is a good time to crack open the vodka and offer a toast. You can toast to anything: friends, family, a guest of honor, if there is one. Most important, either be sincere or sound sincere. It doesn’t really matter in this context. Low-tempo music is being performed on stage. At Rasputin, it was a Kenny G-type on a sax with long, bottle-blond wavy hair. At Tatiana, it was a guy singing Jason Mraz. This is a good time to get in an awkward slow dance.
Around 9:30 or 10, the music ramps up, with renditions of 30-year-old Russian pop songs (as in, my mother, who left Russia in 1989, and does not keep up with the country’s current music scene, was happily mouthing the words to every single song) or American Top 40 classics from 5 years ago. There are usually back-up dancers or singers involved. The kitsch-o-meter is definitely rising. Around now, the main course is being brought out.
They do something special at Tatiana, which is, when it’s your birthday, they call you and your entire party out to the dance floor, so you can blow out the candles on your cake. A photographer then takes a ton of pictures, which he’ll offer to you at the end of the night for a a pricey $15 per photo. (It will seem like a good deal at the time.) Our party had a modest cake, but everyone had over-the-top fondant creations. Shell out for a nice cake if you want to compete. It’s all very Bat/Bar-Mitzvah-esque. In the best possible way!
And now it’s time for the show. At Rasputin, it didn’t start until 11:30, but at Tatiana, it got under way closer to 10:30. There is dancing! There are ridiculous costumes! There are mediocre acrobats! There is a woman in a box being stabbed with a flaming spear! It’s silly and cheesy and all-around awesome. Don’t be a cynic–just enjoy yourself. A few highlights: At Tatiana, a group of male dancers broke into a Fiddler-style wine-bottle-on-your-hat-dance, complete with faux Orthodox garb and stick-on peyos. At Rasputin, the female dancers started the show dressed as Eiffel Towers.
After the official entertainment, the music reaches its zenith, with pop-y and club-y Russian and American hits flowing one after the other. This is the time to get on the dance floor and “twerk”, or do whatever the kids are doing these days. This is also when they bring out dessert, which you can munch on between “twerks.” (That’s correct usage, right?)
There might be a lull in the music around midnight, but don’t worry, it’ll pick back up! At both Rasputin and Tatiana, we left around 2 a.m., with the music still thumping.
That was fun, now how do I get home? I know, right? That was crazy! There will be well-priced car service sedans idling outside as you leave.