There are no words, well almost–I 'm going to try–to convey the truly unique experience of Brighton Beach's The National, a luxe banquet hall with lavish carpet, lots of gilded stuff, giant chandeliers, and long tables for big parties adorned with roses, herring, salads, and caviar.
The other tables will be filled with Russian families, making toasts and headed by handsome silver haired, steely eyed men who can tear up the dance floor and look like they could tear you apart with their bare hands the next. It was kind of Eastern Promises, family style.
The aforementioned cold appetizers are out for sampling as the first stage show begins. Enter a Steven Seagal-style performer with satin pants. Next are lots of Russian ballads, and to my happiness, the Luther Vandross looking singer did a wicked rendition of Abracadabra that got Jim and I on the dance floor with the spry older couples right off the bat.
As the night progressed, the food got hotter and so did the stage acts. The lights went dark and then things got really wild. Wild like black lite lit top hats, pasties, cabana boys, drag queens, feathers, and bumble bee outfits. Yeah, when Anthony Bourdain called it “a show that if John Waters saw would turn into a Broadway show and make it a hit” he was dead on.
An outing to The National takes planning and I thank Marcus for organizing this amazing event for his birthday. You need to plan for a long car ride, dress to the nines (as they told Marcus “This is, how you say, nice place–no jean pants and no the sneakers!!”); plus, you have to be willing to be out of commission the next day. The meal comes with a bottle of vodka for every ten people and champagne, but you can BYOB–and we really did. Astrid had made her own infused vodkas that circled the table and helped to eventually get everyone on the dance floor, not just Jim and I, the dancing fools.
The food here seems to get a bad rap, but I enjoyed it. Maybe banquet style Russian foods like tongue with horseradish, pickled herring, and lots of meats are not accessible to a lot of pallets. I found the crepes with caviar, the pickled tomatoes, the fresh salad, and the meek skewers to be grand and Jim was gaga over the liver mousse and even attempted to horde it on his end of the table.
Besides, even if that food doesn't appeal to you, the National is not really about the food, it's about having an unreal, one-of-a-kind experience that will stay with you forever.