“The Russian Samovar: The Place of the Flavored Vodkas,” read the TV screens above the bar: an apt summary, and a reprimand to anyone ordering beer. Horseradish is the vodka of men; ginger is a crowd-pleaser; pomegranate has a reputation as the girlie vodka. Last Tuesday, in honor of the restaurant’s twenty-fifth anniversary, friends of the proprietor Roman Kaplan gathered to pay tribute and drink from his array of flavored vodkas.
Samovar cofounder Mikhail Baryshnikov ordered horseradish vodka. “Horseradish,” said our companion. “That’s what Baryshnikov got? I trust him.” Baryshnikov’s TV alter ego brought Carrie Bradshaw to the Samovar on Sex and the City, but tonight he was in better company. He availed himself of the buffet—dumplings, sliced fish, beet-striped layer cake, a bowl of bright green pickles—and snapped pictures of his dining companions with a digital camera.
“Mazel Tov!” said Philip Roth to Roman when he arrived around eight-thirty, in the middle of several Russian speeches. Roman had already spoken and enjoyed a postspeech indoor cigarette. To Alexander Izbitser, the dapper house pianist, Roth apologized for his own khakis and blazer. He promised he’d wear his tux for the fiftieth. Roman, Baryshnikov, and poet Joseph Brodksy opened the Samovar in 1986. Tuesday night was the anniversary of the late Brodsky’s birth. According to Roman, it also marked sixteen years of Samovar poetry readings as well as twenty-five years of the restaurant.