Richmond district Russian restaurant Red Tavern renovates for the future
When Igor Litvak’s mother, Irina, passed away suddenly in 2017, he did not know what to do: with his apartment, with his paintings, or with his restaurant, Red Tavern. The store at 2229 Clement Street, one of the few serving traditional Russian fare in San Francisco, was his most precious possession.
“Nothing was prepared,” says Litvak. “I was just emotionally broken trying to figure out everything in mom’s life.” The only child of a single mother, Igor Litvak had just moved to New York with his wife when Irina passed away. She was 52 years old.
Worried customers started calling: Would Red Tavern be closing, they asked? Igor reassured them: Irina’s business partner, Dina Schpak, stepped in to maintain the quality of Red Tavern’s cuisine, and all the staff stayed. These days, says Litvak, Red Tavern food, like borscht, chicken and veal stuffed pelmeni, and iconic beef stroganoff served in puff pastry with kasha, is as good as it gets. has never been – especially when enjoyed with dark Georgian or Russian wines. stouts and porters.
But to keep pace with the food and preserve his mother’s legacy, Igor decided to invest in a major renovation at Red Tavern. A new logo, a new paint job; New tables, chairs, light fixtures and awnings.
“We have to take our chances and respect my mother’s memory,” Igor remembers thinking. The business never closed, but Igor declared it “reopened” with a new look earlier this month. Irina Litvak’s collection of paintings now adorns the walls of Red Tavern, and the restaurant even enjoys a social media presence – something she may never have pushed, personally, but a quasi- necessity in today’s era.
Irina Litvak immigrated from Russia to San Francisco in 1988. She brought with her a three-year-old child, arriving in the Richmond District area, sometimes referred to as Little Russia. Here, she opened several restaurants during her career, such as Flying Pig Bistro and a now closed Treasure Island banquet hall called Danilov. In 2011, she and Schpak opened Red Tavern, her most personal endeavor.
“It was something very special for my mother,” says Litvak. With large tables and a banquet menu for traditional Russian meals, it was also important for the neighborhood.
“There is still a huge Russian community in Richmond,” says Boris Nemchenok, another son of Russian immigrants in Richmond who runs SF Uva Enoteca, Fiorella and Violet’s Tavern restaurants.
Russians, Ukrainians and others from former Soviet countries migrated to the Richmond district in waves, especially during times of political turmoil. Many first and second generation immigrants still flock to traditional businesses like Cinderella Bakery and Royal Market, as well as social centers like the Russian Orthodox Church and Jewish temples in the area. But other staples of Russian catering, such as Katia’s tea room, have struggled or have closed. This is why rejuvenating Red Tavern could be so valuable.
“Keeping the tradition of great tables, the great family-style cuisine that Russians are used to, it’s great for the neighborhood and the community,” says Nemchenok.
Red Tavern is open everyday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.