Diners not Russian to Tea Room

Putin on the fritz: Despite anti-war statement, customers stay away

A photo illustration of the Russian Team Room at 150 West 57th Street (Trip Advisor, iStock)
A photo illustration of the Russian Team Room at 150 West 57th Street (Trip Advisor, iStock)

The Russian Tea Room’s owners are real estate investors based in Manhattan, and have condemned Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but diners still appear to be avoiding it like the gulag.

The famed establishment at 150 West 57th Street was nearly empty during the lunch rush on Tuesday, the New York Post reported. Only 16 customers trickled into the 95-year-old tourist spot over a three-hour stretch.

The name of the restaurant is a likely factor. The scene contrasts the one at Ukrainian eatery Veselka in the East Village, which had customers waiting in long lines over the weekend to support it, according to the Post.

The Russian Tea Room put out a statement early this week noting its history in “speaking against communist dictatorship and for democracy.”

“Just as the original founders, Soviet defectors who were displaced by the revolution, stood against Stalin’s Soviet Union, we stand against [Vladimir] Putin and with the people of Ukraine,” the statement read in part.

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The establishment was founded by the Russian Imperial Ballet as a meeting spot for Russians before turning into a tourist destination. Real estate investors RTR Funding Group purchased the building and business in 2004 for $19 million, according to the Post. The developer behind the effort was Gerald Lieblich, who was in his early 40s at the time.

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The emptying out of the Russian Tea Room is one of many consequences being felt by Russian businesses and billionaires in the U.S. as war rages on. Demonstrators gathered by the soon-to-open Aman New York resort last weekend, prompting the Russian-born billionaire behind it, Vladislav Doronin, to issue a statement opposing the war and asserting that he was born in the Soviet Union and is a U.S. citizen and therefore is not Russian.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are looking to change disclosure rules for limited liability companies, requiring them to disclose “beneficial owners.” The measure may make it easier to find real estate owned by Russian oligarchs as politicians call for action against them.

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine has advocated for the confiscation Russian oligarchs’ real estate.

“For years Manhattan has been one of the most popular safe harbors for Russian oligarchs to park their cash, especially via ultra-high-end apartments,” he tweeted. “It’s time to start seizing their properties. #SupportUkraine.”

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden called for the seizure of real estate owned by oligarchs connected to Putin.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs,” Biden said. “We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

[NYP] — Holden Walter-Warner