As we all know, The Russian Tea Room is one of the oldest and famous restaurants in not only NYC but in the world. It is a destination stop for tourists and locals alike. In particular, their borscht soup is legendary. The Russian Tea Room has been dazzling locals and tourists for almost a century, since 1927. This stylish entertainment venue is known for its antique revolving doors that open to reveal scenes from familiar movies and an art collection that is astonishing. Those lucky enough to enter will recognize the booth where Dustin Hoffman filmed a scene in “Tootsie,” or see how Woody Allen was inspired to film, “Manhattan.” People clamor to get into The Russian Tea Room, just to see what all the fuss is about.
During his long stint as writer, producer, artist and publisher, Don Oriolo has been a regular at The Russian Tea Room. When he worked at RSO records, for Robert Stigwood, he brought Meatloaf there when Don signed him to a record deal. It’s that kind of place… a place to celebrate! Weddings, engagements, completion of contracts…anything that one wants to underscore an achievement or event. Celebrities are often sighted at the restaurant celebrating new opportunities or awards and accomplishments. So, it seems only fitting that Don would continue his 40-year love affair with the restaurant still, to this day.
While in the city one afternoon to meet Mark Barkan, an old writing partner, and his son, Michael, Don suggested they go for a great bowl of borscht at The Russian Tea Room, a home away from home to Don and Mark, almost a tradition. Same table, same fare, if the right day. As they were leaving the restaurant, an obvious table of tourists said to the artsy-looking Don, “Excuse me, but you look like someone famous, are you?” Don, always one for a joke, sat down and asked them for a pen and paper. Although inquisitive, they accommodated him. As he continued to talk to them about where they were from, he drew them both a picture of Felix the Cat. It started a buzz in the restaurant and people from other tables started to drift over to the table and shyly asked if they too could have a drawing of the most marvelous cat. And, Don did what he always does, he drew for the whole restaurant, with a smile on his face and humor in his voice.
The owner of the restaurant caught wind of this and sashayed over. When the drawings were done, he approached Don and asked if it’s always like that when people find out what he does. Don answered by saying, “pretty much.” You could almost see the wheels turning as the owner took Don aside and said, “I’d love for you to paint a painting for the restaurant.” Now, it is important to be aware of the fact that THE RUSSIAN TEA ROOM prides itself with the art collection that graces its walls. This made it a huge compliment to connect Don with the restaurant. A few weeks went by as Don completed the large painting, painted in the style and look and feel of the masters, both in palette and lighting.
The day came when Don and a small entourage delivered the painting. And with much fanfare and media coverage, the painting was unveiled. The was an audible “wow” heard in the audience. Everyone was ecstatic with what had just happened.
The painting is now placed in a place of honor in the front of the restaurant as you walk in. According to the owner it has become a huge draw for them, as people want to come and see the FELIX THE CAT painting, with Felix holding his favorite tea pot. If you’re in NYC… stop in, check out the painting, and have a borscht soup…RIGHT-O!!!