Restaurant and music venue Moscow 57 reverberates with the spirit of NYC’s Lower East Side. It is a natural extension of founder Ellen Kaye’s lineage, whose family owned the city’s famed Russian Tea Room for 50 years. Kaye herself is an accomplished entertainer who has performed at another 57th Street landmark, Carnegie Hall. Alongside her partners, Executive Chef Seth Goldman and Entertainment Producer Ethan Fein, Kaye has created a red-lacquered jewel in which the neighborhood’s history comes alive.
At Moscow 57 the comfort of traditional Russian dishes like beef stroganoff and chicken kiev are met with the “sensual and modern” flavors of the Silk Road. The menu draws from the neighborhood’s traditional blinis, caviar, salmon, whitefish salad, in addition to vodka infused with a rotating assortment of flavors, from sour cherry to horseradish. Zakuski or “Russian tapas” serve as lighter fare from which surprising flavors bloom. Rose petals open in mint yogurt sprinkled with pomegranate seeds; the Esenguly date salad is macerated in orange water. Chef Goldman’s menu traces successive empires, following routes that ingredients took crossing the former Russian Empire along the Silk Road as it extended deep into Eastern Europe. “This is not at all like my grandmother’s borscht,” a Russian guest suggested of Goldman’s smoothly blended and faintly spiced soup.
Moscow 57 has gathered a community of performing artists, who feed one another’s creative spark. The bartender is likely to throw back a fresh Moscow Mule, leaving his post behind the bar to bawdily sign the the letters of L-O-V-E—with his legs—while Grace Garland, author of “Loneliness Makes You Stupid, the Grown Woman’s Guide to Dating,” croons and Cleve Douglass scats in accompaniment. Garland and Douglass, career artists with wide repertoires, were booked on the same tour through Russia, but had only seen one another in posters, before meeting at Moscow 57. When Kaye takes the stage, the range and sultry depth of her voice make for one of Moscow 57’s more clandestine affairs. The venue also hosts Aces and Operatives, an immersive roleplaying game in which the food, song, characters and decor all speak to Cold War-era intrigue.
Moscow 57 mixes artists, neighborhood characters and guests in easy camaraderie. It is a response to what Ethan Fein, who produces the Straight from Delancey radio show (broadcast live from the venue on Sunday nights), describes as a yearning for old New York. “There was a musical culture in New York that went extinct,” recalls Fein. It was a time when, “artists did not develop on YouTube” or by imitating recordings, but in front of live audiences and in collaboration with one another. What’s been lost according to Fein is fundamental to artistic discovery: improvisation. Fein recalls a moment when playing bass, Kaye started singing in accompaniment, forcing him to rethink the arrangement. “She is an extraordinarily generous artist,” Fein says of Kaye. Moscow 57 is above all the promise of the Lower East Side—or as Chef Goldman suggests, “A parade every night.”
Check out live entertainment at Moscow 57, located at 168 1/2 Delancey St, NYC, from Wednesday to Sunday.
Images by Natasha Tauber