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The Russian Tea Room
Even if you're familiar with the Russian Tea Room—and what New Yorker isn't?—walking in can be an overwhelming experience. Look one way and you'll spot a wall of gold antiques glinting in a spotlight; another, the crimson booth where Dustin Hoffman sat in Tootsie. Head farther in and you'll hit the Bear Lounge, where a giant glass sculpture of a bear holds up four orbs as if juggling in a circus. Each room feels cavernous, yet somehow every inch of the space seems to be filled with opulent décor, from tiered gold chandeliers and modernist paintings to rich leather banquettes and sinuous tree sculptures.
When diners aren't hypnotized by the atmosphere, they've often got an eye on the clientele; politicians, writers, and actors like to swing by for a drink. The restaurant's status as a favorite of cultural heavyweights is perhaps a consequence of its proximity to Carnegie Hall, perhaps of its history—it's been attracting performers and intellectuals since members of the Russian Imperial Ballet founded it in 1927.
Although many diners come for the breathtaking decor and a chance celeb sighting, they stay for the seasonal menus, which blend Russian culinary influences with Continental European cuisine. Lunch and dinner dishes nod to Russian staples with upscale takes on chicken kiev, borscht, and blintzes, and a celebrated afternoon tea presents finger foods in traditional, vegetarian, and gluten-free incarnations. A list of more than 40 vodkas accompanies a roster of handpicked new- and old-world wines.