The Russian Tea Room, the New York restaurant that was a showbiz hangout for several generations, served its last blini on Sunday. The 76-year-old restaurant, long a favorite meeting place for musicians and Broadway and movie stars, closed its doors for good, citing the drop in business since Sept. 11, according to published reports.
Just down the block from Carnegie Hall, the Russian Tea Room had long made it a popular spot among musicians, and eventually, among entertainers and show business dealmakers of all sorts. Boldface names from Marilyn Monroe to Woody Allen were regulars. Elizabeth Taylor famously showed off an engagement ring from Richard Burton there, and an aspiring singer named Madonna worked there as a coat-check girl. The Tea Room even appeared in a couple of movies, including Allen’s ”Manhattan” and ”Tootsie,” in a scene where actor/actress Dustin Hoffman shows up in drag to fool his agent.
While a Sept. 11-related drop in tourist and party business may have been the immediate cause of the restaurant’s closing, it had been in trouble for some time. The Tea Room never really recovered from the loss of momentum it suffered after Warner LeRoy (the owner of Tavern on the Green, the eatery in New York’s Central Park that is said to be the nation’s highest-grossing restaurant) bought it in 1995 and immediately shuttered it for renovation. Four years and $20 million later, the Tea Room finally reopened, but a lot of the regulars had either moved on or were put off by the new circus-like decor.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas held their wedding rehearsal dinner there, but the Tea Room otherwise ceased to be the high-profile destination it once was. LeRoy’s death last year was another blow, and daughter Jennifer LeRoy struggled to keep the restaurant afloat until the abrupt announcement Friday that Sunday’s dinner would be its final meal.
Singer Judy Collins was one of those on hand for that last supper. ”The first time I did Carnegie Hall in 1962, where did we go? Here, where else!” she told the New York Daily News. ”All my parties have been here. Where else could you conceivably have a party?”