Food

Moscow 57: Has Russia Come to East Harlem?

by

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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