Moscow 57: Has Russia Come to East Harlem?
A greenhouse-turned-lounge, tucked under the Metro-North Railroad, sounds like a strange location for a night out on the town, but that's exactly what lures visitors to Moscow 57.
Part of a weekly summer pop-up event series, Moscow 57 is the brainchild of Ellen Kaye.
If she sounds familiar, it's because she should be: Her parents owned the Russian Tea Room from the late 1940s until the 1960s and Moscow 57 is created in its image, though with a more relaxed vibe.
"I'm the blonde with the Windex," said Kaye with a laugh. Indeed, the petite blonde wears many hats in a business that is simultaneously a catering company, art exhibition, and small record label.
Kaye, along with business partners Seth Goldman -- whom she met in college at Sarah Lawrence -- and Ethan Fein began the business venture several years ago.
"Ellen came to me and said she wanted to do a restaurant and music venue," said Goldman. "We've always worked so well together, and I immediately said yes."
Goldman is the culinary side of the business while Fein manages the company's record label along with Kaye.
In 2011, the trio was set to open a brick-and-mortar Moscow 57 but at the last minute, a few major investors backed out, leaving them without the funds to officially open shop.
The setback was a revelation for Kaye, who decided to host pop-up events in order to keep the buzz going about Moscow 57.
They hosted a one-night event last fall and after receiving an enthusiastic response, decided to create an ongoing event. Every Wednesday this summer, Moscow 57 hosts a night of music, art and food at the Urban Garden Center.
The intimate, eclectic vibe compliments the dining menu, which is made up of "zakuski" the Russian word for small bites. Local artists and musicians such as Cleve Douglass, Kayte Grace, Amanda Khiri, and Daniel Root stop by the place to exhibit new works or sing a couple of songs for patrons. Near the end of the evening, Kaye sings a few tunes herself, taking audience requests and chanting Bonnie Raitt and Billy Joel classics.
"It's kind of crazy," said Eluemuno Blyden, a gardener who sells PhytoPods at the Urban Garden Center and stops by Moscow 57 every week. "The train goes by every few minutes and you don't even notice. Somehow it works."
While the pop-ups have taken off, bringing an interesting crowd mix of old friends of the owners and curious East Harlem residents, there are still plans to open a physical space. Kaye hopes that Moscow 57, a name that is tribute to both her Russian roots as well as her childhood of growing up on 57th street in New York, will open by the end of the year.
Wednesday nights at Moscow 57 will continue at the Urban Garden Center through August, and Kaye plans to host several more pop-ups throughout the city during the fall.
"A lot of traditional restauranteurs wouldn't want to do what we're doing," said Kaye. "But a lot of us are musicians and so we're nomads. Every time we do a gig we're popping up so this works for us."
To find out about more Moscow 57 events, visit Moscow57.com.
-- Candace Wheeler
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