Saturday in Manhattan, bundled city kids load into a heated vestibule at Russian Samovar on 52nd, waiting to be let into the two-story restaurant that glows with a cherry-red light. An old-world glamour emanates from the 19th-century Russian relics that adorn the walls: red and green tasseled lampshades, polished brass teapots, antique mirrors, vintage folk prints and stacks of classic books.
Russian Samovar dates back to 1986 when restaurateur Roman Kaplan, ballet master Mikhail Baryshnikov and Nobel Prize-winning Poet Laureate Joseph Brodsky invested in the Theater District locale. (You might remember the iconic Sex and the City 3 AM date where Baryshnikov and Sarah Jessica Parker have tea and black cherries in the upstairs lounge.)
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Frequented by the likes of Sinatra, Debbie Harry and Liza Minnelli, the historic space is a childhood favorite for Eartheater , whose father would bring her there almost every weekend growing up. She even had her first performance at Samovar as a teenager. Now, 16 years and a change of ownership later (Kaplan’s grandson Misha has stepped in), Eartheater is back for a momentous occasion.
Tonight, the crowd contains far fewer theater district hangers-on; instead, it's all it-girls and it-boys who have come out for a holiday party thrown for Eartheater’s emerging record label, Chemical X , and its current signees Lolahol (AKA Lourdes “Lola” Leon ), Ish Couture and, of course, Eartheater.
Eartheater, in a mahogany-red old Hollywood hairdo, purple glossy gloves and a custom red latex AW BRAND dress with a cut-out whale tail, starts the night sipping a dirty martini and greeting guests from the “Sinatra table.” Before Russian Samovar took over this midtown gem in the '80s, Jilly’s Canteen, owned by a friend of Sinatra’s, was a hot spot for his crew, the Rat Pack. Sinatra owned the apartment right above the restaurant, which has since been acquired by the Samovar and converted into a sexy second-floor Russian disco lounge.
At around 1 AM, guests make their way downstairs, some seated at the century-old red banquets and others standing around Baryshnikov's baby grand piano, where Eartheater, in Jessica Rabbit drag, is ready to serenade the already rowdy crowd with five songs from her 2020 release Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin . Caressing the piano with her long acrylic nails, she asks the crowd to simmer down: “I want to hear a pin drop,” she commands. The crowd obeys as Eartheater’s sultry, wistful set swells over the room. Like a traditional Samovar piano bar set, Eartheater’s brooding and whispering vocals are accompanied by a violinist and pianist: Adam Markiewicz (LEYA), who most recently worked on Acne Studio's Paris Fashion Week Show , and Merilyn Chang.
When Eartheater's set concludes, party organizer Becky Aksamit shepherds guests upstairs into the lounge where DJ J!mmy ups the ante with disco-pop tracks, ending his set with a live rendition of “Love Me Still” with Lolahol. Styled by Scarlett Costello in a Roberta Einer dress, Balenciaga boots, dark eyeshadow and white hair clip-ins, Lola sings an unreleased track (produced by Hara Kiri), a new-age alternative bop that captivates the red-glowing room. She takes it home with her latest release “Lock&Key,” which was co-produced by Eartheater, Sammy and Hara Kiri. Joined by Sammy, the ethereal dance track gets the crowd moving. The guests, most of whom know Lola personally, are excited for the hit to come on, singing the words in unison. Hara Kiri then does a surprise DJ set ending with her remix of “Solid Liquid Gas” live with Eartheater.
Houston-born, Brooklyn-based rapper Ish Couture and Hardkore move the party into the banquet room around 3 AM for their live set, changing the vibe completely. The angelic, surreal atmosphere created by Lolahol and Eartheater is flipped on its head as Couture stomps around on a raised platform in clunky black combat boots, Diesel gloves, a Dion Lee shirt and glasses by RETROSUPERFUTURE, performing his ominous electronic rap songs. The apocalyptic intensity mounts as the rapper riles up the crowd and makes everyone forget how long we've been inside Russian Samovar.
The night is topped off with a surprise set by Christian Tokyo (fresh off a gig with Omar S. that same evening). Christian Tokyo, Sammy and Kool Hand take the party home, landing the plane around 6 AM to conclude a night to remember at Russian Samovar and solidifying the epic introduction of Chemical X's emerging talent — something Eartheater says on the mic wouldn't be possible without such a strong community to support it.
Photography: Sasha Ernst
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