Roman Kaplan, Restaurateur and Host for Soviet Exiles, Dies at 83

The Samovar’s most esteemed visitor was Brodsky, a friend from Leningrad. He recruited Mr. Baryshnikov’s assistance in order to save the restaurant and utilised the cash from his Nobel Prize in Literature.


Roman Kaplan, Restaurateur and Host for Soviet Exiles, Dies at 83

Table 16 in the back was set aside by Mr. Kaplan for him. Alexander Izbitser, the Samovar’s longtime pianist and a graduate of the Leningrad Conservatory, knew to play more subtly when the soft-spoken Brodsky was present.

Roman Kaplan, Restaurateur and Host for Soviet Exiles, Dies at 83

Once, Brodsky had penned his rhymes on the menu of the Samovar. You can’t go wrong with Russian herring, in my opinion. The poet wrote both serious and humorous verses on Mr. Kaplan.

Winter! In New York City tonight

How chilly it is here is beyond your comprehension.

For you and yours, some vodka and caviar

If not here, should be able to warm us up?

But what about the Russian Samovar of Kaplan?

Even while Mr. Kaplan possessed extraordinary diplomatic abilities, they had their limits. One evening, Yevgeny Yevtushenko turned down an offer from Brodsky because he thought Yevtushenko had been tainted by his connections to the Soviet authorities, which Brodsky blamed in part for Yevtushenko’s forced exile.

Regulars and visitors alike have contributed poems, prose poems, drawings, and doodles to scrapbooks that Mr. Kaplan has kept for years. At a Moscow auction in 2018, Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut bought $230,000 for the collection, bringing a generation of Russian creativity home.

Roman is our Rick, to quote the Russian author Solomon Volkov, who played Humphrey Bogart’s restaurant owner Ricky in “Casablanca.”

Although Rick rarely drank with them, Kaplan’s renowned homemade vodkas were always available for guests (coming in horseradish, cilantro, dill and various fruit flavors, among others).

His propensity to cash checks came perilously close to putting the company out of existence.

Last Words

He had a unique perspective on operating a restaurant because of his sensitivity to food wastage as a result of almost going hungry during the Leningrad siege. Frostbite from World War II left Mr. Kaplan with a hobble and a dislike of small conversation.