East meets east at Samovar: Another Russia-themed bar from the owner of Pravda and Rasputin

East meets east at Samovar: Another Russia-themed bar from the owner of Pravda and Rasputin

From Russia with love: Rumen Dimitroff opens his third drinking house in Cabbagetown

The city’s ambassador of Russian chic, Rumen Dimitroff (Rasputin, Pravda), brings another vodka-inspired nightspot to the east end—this time at 51 Winchester Street. As with his other tributes to the motherland (Rasputin pays homage to czarist Russia; Pravda plays on Soviet communism), Samovar is loaded with cultural shout-outs. The bar unites centuries of Russian cultural history, starting with the titular antique teapots from which classic eastern European drinks will be served. Dimitroff, who has been steadily colonizing the east end, is trying to break the region’s reputation as a second-fiddle destination. “I’m trying to make the east end a little more attractive.”

Perched above the Winchester Hotel and consciously unsigned, the new Cabbagetown bar picks up where the former resident—the loungey Laurentian Room—left off. Old World features include high ceilings, the space’s original 1935 bar, fireplaces and decorative mirrors. Heavy burgundy drapery and rich woods set a warm atmosphere that borders on lusty. The heritage digs eliminate “the cliché of the square dark bar,” as Dimitroff puts it.

The luxurious ambience will get an erotic influx with monthly burlesque shows for which Dimitroff is currently sourcing a team of dancers. DJs are likely to keep the beat most nights, though tunes won’t be loud enough to hinder conversation. The small stage will double as a VIP lounge, but the most sought-after spot in the house is likely to be the intoxicating spirit-stacked “crisper”; guests can wear supplied fur hats and coats while perusing the booze options. “It’s a very romantic space,” says Dimitroff of the old-style refrigerator, which he hopes mimics the charming freight elevator table at his former restaurant, Bravi.

While Rasputin and Pravda impress with the quantity of their vodka selections, Samovar focuses on hard-to-find absinthes from Europe and North America, like Kabu, from British Columbia. A slim list of beers includes both Russian and local representatives; a small-plates menu features steak tartare and a cocktail-ready twist on a Russian classic, shrimp stroganoff. “There will be some surprises there,” says Dimitroff of the food. He’s most excited about a Russian-style weekend brunch that includes countless selections of smoked fish, salads, caviar and homemade gravlax. For drinkers immersed in their own pickling process, he entices with a taste of the old country: five different kinds of Russian cabbage, pickled apples, pickled green tomatoes and pickled watermelon. Of the last import he says, “It’s a bit salty, with a zing of sourness.” We might need a few glasses of Stoli before we hit that.

Samovar, 51 Winchester St. Opening next month.