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Russian Tea Room's Faith Stewart-Gordon dies at age 88

An actress turned restaurateur after her husband left her the restaurant, the southerner became a grande dame of the New York City fine-dining scene.
Photo courtesy of Russian Tea Room NYC

Faith Stewart-Gordon, the transplanted southerner who presided over New York City’s Russian Tea Room during the fine-dining landmark’s heyday, died last week at age 88.

The cause of her death was not revealed in the news reports and slew of social media postings that noted her passing.

Stewart-Gordon owned and ran the famed celebrity lunch spot for nearly three decades, from the death of husband Sidney Kaye in 1967 until she sold the 57th Street neighbor of Carnegie Hall to the flamboyant Werner LeRoy in 1995. Always quirky, the place was right out of “Mad Men,” with high red banquets, velvet-patterned wallpaper, formally dressed servers, a menu of European fine-dining staples and a striking lack of windows. Better food could be found in any number of nearby places. But reputation kept it a popular destination for the city’s entertainment elite.

Stewart-Gordon was as much a part of the place as its sizeable samovar, a figure of grace and propriety amid the establishment’s ample eccentricities. She was as much a doyenne of the local fine-dining scene as Ella Brennan was in New Orleans.

Despite landing a few entertainment roles herself, Stewart-Gordon assumed full ownership of the Tea Room following the death of Kaye, who had bought the place right after World War II with $400 he had saved while in the service.  Business flagged as tastes changed in the 1980s and ‘90s, prompting Stewart-Gordon to sell to LeRoy, the proprietor of Maxwell’s Plum in New York and Sequoia in Washington, D.C.  He injected more quirk, to mixed reactions from the old guard of customers.

The restaurant remains in operation today.

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