Just opened: Samovar

Just opened: Samovar

In Soviet Russia, fire eats you (Photo by Karon Liu) 

It’s oddly appropriate that a Russian-themed bar has opened in Cabbagetown. But instead of borscht, Samovar served crudités (sprinkled with salt rather than dipped in ranch), skewers of meat, house-made blinis with caviar and, of course, plenty of Stolichnaya during Thursday’s opening night.

Thankfully, the decor is less Yakov Smirnoff and more an homage to the Soviet era. Clips of old Russian cartoons are projected on the wall, a copy of War and Peace sits on the coat check counter, and two collages of propaganda posters adorn the sides of a small stage at the end of the bar. Not so subtle are the fur hats and officer’s caps worn by the staff.

Proprietor Rumen Dimitroff said he wanted to maintain the integrity of the building, which was built in 1935 and was once a haunt of Al Capone. As a result, there is no exterior signage: instead, a doorman in full Russian guard regalia directs visitors to the upstairs bar and dance floor.

“I always look for places that are off the beaten path,” says Dimitroff as he shows off a bottle of Okanagan Taboo Absinthe in the chilly tasting room behind the kitchen. “I don’t want to open a place on a strip that’s just bar after bar after bar.”

If this night’s patrons are any indication, the crowd is all over the place: suits mingle with students ordering bottles of sparkling wine, older couples in shorts and T-shirts dance to MIA remixes, and young professionals trade business cards. But everyone’s attention is drawn to the space’s original bar when the fire-eating go-go dancer starts her show. Afterward, the DJ spins such guilty pleasures as “Disco Inferno,” and dancing is more free-spirited than sleazy, a sign that things are more fun back in the U.S.S.R.

Samovar, 51A Winchester St., 416-925-4555, samovarroom.com.