Nightlife Babe Scores On "Russian Dolls" Reality Show

A dose of reality from Brighton Beach

As delightful as glasnost, Marina Levitis co-owns Rasputin Restaurant & Cabaret, the go-to spot in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where revelers of all backgrounds commune over vodka, caviar, and performances (but mostly vodka). Even if they seat you in Siberia, the place is as crazy fun as the old Russian Tea Room without the stick up its ass.

These days, Levitis is raising a toast to the Lifetime channel, which just started airing Russian Dolls, a reality show about herself and seven other Brooklyn Russkies working out their high-pressure issues without ever resorting to games like Russian roulette.

My recent conversation with the pioneering zhenshchina went like so:

Me: Hi, Marina. Have you ever thought of naming your restaurant for someone other than the controversial mystic who was poisoned, shot, beaten, and drowned?

Levitis: No. I think it's a good name because Rasputin was known for his opulence. He liked to live hard and party hard. You get to experience all of it at Rasputin. We renovated it to be a lot more opulent, a Russian czar type of experience. When you come in, you feel you're transformed.

Me: For what price?

Levitis: It's actually very affordable. On Saturday nights, our fixed menu starts at $100, and it's all you can eat, drink, and party—you can stay all night.

Me: I might stay for a month. Is there prejudice about Russian Americans in Brooklyn?

Levitis: People are prejudiced, but if you show them your life and open your home and family to them, they are gonna be comfortable with you. Our community needs this show. There's a lot of different stereotypes out there, like the Russian mafia, and Russian women are easy. This show will show all kinds of people. It's not just Jersey Shore party girls. It's an eye-opener.

Me: One of your co-stars noted that you always act like the whole world revolves around you. Is this true?

Levitis: I don't think so, but in this community, when you're somebody, you have to maintain a certain lifestyle, drive a certain car, and maintain a certain appearance. Russians are all about appearances.

Me: So some stereotypes might be true! Anyway, you were in high school when you met your husband and restaurant partner, Michael. Ever have a cheating crisis?

Levitis: I hope not. I would never cheat. I'm a good girl. But a crisis is not all about cheating. There's other issues—money issues, in-law issues. It helps when you know each other for a long time and have a sense of humor and no secrets.

Me: Speaking of in-law issues, why were you so mortified when your mother-in-law entered the senior pageant, as seen on the show? You left before she won the talent prize!

Levitis: It was extremely embarrassing. You're a socialite in your community and people talk about you. You have to maintain a certain image. And when your mother-in-law goes nuts all the time, it doesn't help. She never feels any embarrassment. She has a lot of fun—more than the younger girls on the show. But it's at my expense. If she has a good time, it's me and my husband that are suffering.

Me: It's true that the young girls seem a little more tortured. Maybe it's because they're oppressed by their parents' sense of tradition? How do you feel about the girl whose mother pressures her to only marry a Russian?

Levitis: Traditionally, everybody likes to keep it in the family. I'd prefer my kids marry someone in the community. Is it a must? Probably not. But these girls are first-generation and were brought here when they were young. It's still part of the culture. I had my kids in my early twenties. I'm in my early thirties now. You can have your fun in your twenties or raise your kids and then have fun in your thirties, when you can afford to have fun. That's what I did.

Me: You're 34. That's considered early thirties?

Levitis: It's not 38. It's still pretty young. I'm only 34, but look at my life, my husband, the pressure to always be perfect, a restaurant every Russian person in the world has heard of. There's an image you have to uphold, and you're only in your thirties!

Me: Speak for yourself. Any second thoughts about doing the show?

Levitis: Of course. You give up your privacy. The first couple of weeks were very stressful, but I hope it's gonna benefit the business and the whole community. It will put this part of Brooklyn on the map.

Me: Not to mention your fashion sense!

Levitis: I'm very fashionable. It has to be high-end designers, all European and quality. I shop at Saks and Neiman Marcus. And I have my tan on all year 'round.

Me: So you'd never leave the house in just jeans and whiteface?

Levitis: I would wear jeans, but they have to be nice jeans, of course. It's a part of the game. The husband wants to feel like a king; he has to have a queen next to him. That comes from the Russian culture. Good looks are a lot of work. Nobody wakes up looking glamorous.

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27 comments
Ramona Fuller
Ramona Fuller

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, www.tinyurl.com/3qa436v

???
???

How come no mention of her husband's CRIMINAL activities?

semechka
semechka

I like her usage of the word "opulence." Clearly, she has it.

Inna0920
Inna0920

First she said EVERYWHERE that it will be like Jersey Shore, now she says it is totally different. I live in Sheepsheadbay and I am a Russian American who is 27, most of the people I know (thank G-d) are nothing like the girls in the show. We study hard, work full time and our parents came here for totally different reasons, antisemitism was the biggest reason.... Please, guys don't judge all the Russian girls and guys based on what you see in this show. Oh and I happen to know Marina and her husband Michael for a loooong time....but I won't comment on that :)

PS This is not one of your haters, don't be flattered

Guest
Guest

She looks like someone who would get kicked in the face and knocked out (right before she was about to board a seaplane to San Tropez with a sackful of stolen diamonds) at the end of an episode of Charlie's Angels.

Jes
Jes

What does it even mean for her to marry within the community? Although she is labelled as a Russian doll and she speaks Russian, her last name suggests that she is Jewish and Brighton Beach was in fact a Russian Jewish neighbourhood. So does she her kids to marry a Russian Jew? That's a bit too limiting if you ask me.

Mermaid
Mermaid

I wouldn't waste my time watching this brainless, vulgar show, but will tell you that it aptly depicts the recent Russian emigres I've seen-bad boob jobs, botox, nose jobs, hair extensions, etc...and the reputation for being "fashion-forward"??? Please. Don't make me laugh...the gaudy, excessive use of bejeweled necklines, plunging cleavage and too-short dresses on chubby legs verges on Las Vegas-mall-hooker wear. I've also been privvy-on two occasions, in Paris, in very upscale hotel lounges, to the most apallingly crass, obnoxious, loud and inconsiderate behavior by groups of visiting Russkies. The bad reputation of these Russians in France-and other places-are well deserved. My friends in Paris can't stand these tourists, who treat them-and everyone else-like garbare. Bad, bad manners all round. I don't like to generalize, but the Russians nowadays-at least those with even a tiny amount of money or "success"- seems way too impressed with themselves for absolutely no reason. I'll continue to steer clear.

Barkley
Barkley

Stop giving reality shows press! Boring!

Russian Girl
Russian Girl

So I just watched the show and all I can say, that these people are ridiculous. I was brought here at a very young age and yes I am Russian, but never have my parents pressured me to marry a Russian, on the contrary I have always dated Latinos and my family has been very supportive of me and my lifestyle. One thing is true and that is we are very fashion forward, but that does not mean I will spend ridiculous amount at Saks. Its not how much it costs or where you buy it, its how you look and how confident you are with yourself.

Russiangirl
Russiangirl

nobody in our community considers her a "socialite" or a woman of any value. we think she is a laughing stock.

Ferry
Ferry

She's a little bit flashy verging on crass but she's honest about it. I like her and would love to go to Rasputin.

Yaya
Yaya

Your fist question made me scream with laughter.

jpdanzig
jpdanzig

It sounds as if the Russians have picked up all the worst habits of the Americans. So much for glasnost...

Maria Diana
Maria Diana

why are you leaving out that you're Jewish as well?

Cassandra
Cassandra

Jess, that's what immigrants do...want their children to marry within the community and for good reason. Didn't you see The Godfather 2? Marrying a non-Italian like Kate turned out to be a big mistake for Michael Corleone.

Fania Spv
Fania Spv

yes, it has to be a russian jew, because god forbid one of these fat cows with clown makeup that you see on the boardwalk don't understand what their future son-in-law is saying. let him be a limo driver, "nu hataba on ruski"( but at least he's russian).

I used to work in a Med office in a russian neighborhood and when I told someone my boyfriend was half-german half-russian ( orthodox not jewish) every old lady flipped the fuck out and someone actually felt it prudent to tell the doctor I was working what "awful" people I had gotten involved with, no shit. NO FUCKING SHIT! If it was some Arkasha from the block around the corner with a GED -equivalent education who sat on the couch all day eating sunflower seeds,he would be a loser but it would be "okay". When it was a not russian speaking jew who had his own apartment ( not mama and papa's) and his own job ( not working for papa's limo company) it was just AWFUL. No one bothered to inquire as to my personal ethnical background and the fact that I am far from 100% jewish because you know, I "belong" to the community and that's all that matters. These people are very, very primitive, it's like certain muslim countries were the young woman's behavior is like a jungian mirror for the rest of the community. If I marry a non-jew, it's like THEY married a non-jew, even if I'm not their relative, it still counts.

Russian Girl
Russian Girl

Yeah she is Jewish, she was wearing a star of david. But if I am not mistaken within the limited community that she surrounds herself, all of them are Jewish.

Cas_eindhoven
Cas_eindhoven

LOL, I know what you mean -- just like that Russian couple in the movie "2012!"

But honestly, they're just people like any other...you will always find complaints from the natives (of almost any country) about tourists (from almost any country): the British the Americans, the Americans the Chinese, the Chinese the Africans, the Africans the French, the French and everybody not French -- except maybe some smart heel-clickin' Germans!

Mermaid
Mermaid

That's what she comes off as...a huge joke. glad to hear one of her "own" is clear-eyed. Thanks.

Cas_eindhoven
Cas_eindhoven

Yeah, I like an honest girl. Reminds me of a Russian ex-girlfriend (actually, two [of three -- or even four, if you count a white green-eyed red-headed Kazakh!]) I had...I bet Marina is really sexual, too...I love this Sephardic look in Russian cultural affectations! She's a "Jewess" in the best classic sense of that word in Russian history....

Yaya
Yaya

"first" question

Cas_eindhoven
Cas_eindhoven

Yes, they are all Jewish -- though of course, "there are Jews, and then there are Jews"....

At the risk of being politically incorrect, I'd like to know what a "real" Russian is like...every "Russian" I've met has turned out to be "Jewish"...which is a good thing, as I like the outlook of Russian Jewish girls, generally (the keeping-up-appearances is pretty much universal with females the world over), but I do wish I could experience a "purely" "Russian" sensibility, too....

Cas_eindhoven
Cas_eindhoven

The woman's Jewish. It's like Woody Allen making the quintessential "American" film...or, even, "New York" film...New York's about much more than Jewish UWS Manhattan, we know, but it's not inaccurate to say that his whiny pompous overly-intellectual characters are "American" -- and in the same way, Marina Levitis' being perfectly "Russian"....

 
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