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Best Bar for Drinking Vodka With the Russian Intelligentsia

  • Russian Samovar

    256 W. 52nd St.; 212-757-0168

    There are bars that have many designer bottles on the menu and will fix you a cold martini, but for those who take it straight, the city’s original infused-vodka bar is still the place to pound a shot of liquid garlic, horseradish, coriander, or any of nineteen other flavors in murky decanters. Roman Kaplan, the burly bon vivant who has owned the Samovar since 1986 (well before the Russian Vodka Room set up shop across the street, and don’t get him started on it) has played gregarious host to friends like Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, and Susan Sontag. Over the years, a who’s-who of expat artists, novelists, musicians, and even hockey players has filled the narrow red-and-green-tinged room with Russian chatter and the doodles and poems that hang on the walls. Kaplan shuttles smokers and friends past the white baby grand where Alexander Izbitser has played for over fifteen years and up to a private room with the air of a St. Petersburg salon. As for the food, follow the advice Joseph Brodsky once wrote in the menu: “You won’t be erring by ordering the herring” and “beef Stroganoff if you’re strong enough.”

From the 2007 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine