Cocktail time at an old 1940s Russian restaurant

RussianrestaurantpostcardEver heard of Tarwid’s Russian Bear restaurant? Me neither, but based on their postcard advertisements, I’m intrigued.

“America’s oldest Russian restaurant” boasted that it was “nationally famed the excellence of its Russian cuisine and beauty of true Russian atmosphere.”

Tarwid’s once had a prime location on Lexington Avenue in Midtown. Must have been the site of some truly epic working lunches.

According to real-estate records, the place relocated to Lexington and 57th Street in 1948, and then moved down Lexington to 39th Street in 1952.


After that, the trail goes cold. Today, the address leads to a 1960s-style apartment building housing several small stores.


I love the ELdorado phone exchange and the old-school ZIP code, only the last two digits necessary for mail to be delivered within New York City.

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15 Responses to “Cocktail time at an old 1940s Russian restaurant”

  1. Rich L Says:

    It wasn’t a ZIP code, it was a “zone,” and Elvis backs me up on that in his song, Return to Sender (“…no such number, no such zone”).

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I defer to Elvis of course, but doesn’t the Z in zip stand for zone?

  3. Rich L Says:

    Well, ok… yes, ZIP was the “Zone Improvement Program,” but this didn’t come about until the early 1960’s as I recall. But it’s a very important piece of trivia that I mention to anyone listening every time that song is played. (Why, yes, I am getting along in years, how did you know?)

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    All Elvis/NYC Zip code trivia is always welcome!

  5. Ashley Fraser Says:

    Oh god yes (there was a bear there) my mother who was Polish would take my parents and I when she came in from California in the late 60s to the early 70s I remember buckwheat pancakes I didnt like the caviar but but they were great.

  6. FRANK M Says:

    I believe the ZIP Codes were introduced in the summer or fall of 1963.

  7. chas1133 Says:

    This made me think of Sammy’s on Chrystie St for some odd reason…

  8. Vincent Perratore Says:

    There was an Old Russian Bear restaurant on East 56th St., between Lexington Ave. and 3rd Ave., during the early and middle 70s, but has since closed down. During that period however, an elderly violinist named Boris used to play there and was very good, but unfortunately he was injured in a car accident and had passed away within a few years. The Russian Chorus Ensemble were also habitues of the establishment when they happened to be in town.

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Perhaps the 56th Street restaurant you write about was the final incarnation of Tarwid’s. I wish we could go back and visit.

    • Cindy Says:

      Yes it was the final incarnation of Tarwids! They had moved a couple of times. My Grandmothers sister and husband owned Tarwids Russian bear for many many many years. Tarwid was their last name. My great Aunt was a Russian singer and her husband kept the restaurant opened until the early to mid 70’s until he got sick so she could continue performing there. My father even bartenderd there in his early 20’s. I wish I saw this sooner so I could have asked my grandmother more questions about it, but sadly she passed away at 96 years old last year. Her sister Who owned the restaurant passed away a couple of years before at 101 years of age. My mother went alot to visit my dad and to hear my aunt sing. She said that through the years they actually had some big names perform on their stage, and that alot of celebrities of its day used to frequent it. I never got to go there or even meet my Uncle because I wasnt born yet, but I did know my Grandmothers sister and have to say that when she sang, she sounded like an Angel. My Uncle was right to keep it going for her, as she got to share her beautiful voice with all those who entered there =)

  10. jessiemoniz Says:

    Axis spy Grace Buchanan Dineen hung out there in 1942. It was then located at 645 Lexington Avenue.

  11. Charles Campbell Says:

    The balalaika player on Theodore Bikel’s Songs of a Russian Gypsy, from about 1958, was Sasha Polinov, who evidently was regularly featured at the Russian Bear.

  12. Keath North Says:

    One of my best friends in life was Patricia Tarwid. We traveled to Europe together in 1977 and remained close until her recent death. I was blessed to know both her parents and her sister. Also blessed to have experienced The Russian Bear many times. I’ll never forget the sight of Patricia’s stern father keeping an eye on us. Patricia’s widower, Martin, is a dear friend. We keep in touch. I just purchased an old matchbook cover from the original Lex location.

  13. Dan Says:

    I have a Russian Bear matchbook with the address 139 E. 56th Street.

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