Four Beloved Local Slices of Ukraine

Like millions around the world, I can’t help obsessing about the conflict in Ukraine (I was about to characterize it as “one-sided” but, no, the Ukrainians, from uniformed soldiers to old ladies in babushkas, seem to be giving as good as they’re getting, though they are not the aggressors.) So here is a third installment, to follow up on a series of posts that began with The Ukrainians of Travalanche and this Profile of Zelenskyy. It includes a brief peek at four local Ukrainian spots that have meaning for me, and with which I have interacted during my three-plus decades in New York.

Odessa Diner (119 Avenue A) was where Noah Diamond and I held many of our important production meetings for I’ll Say She Is between 2014 and 2016. It was a straight-up diner which also offered Eastern European cuisine. Unfortunately, Covid put it out of business by mid 2020. It’s set to become a Superiority Burger’s location later this year. But I’ll always connect the address with happy memories. It’s also in episode 8, season one of Russian Doll! A nice tribute to Odessa here at Grub Street.

Ukrainian East Village Restaurant/ Ukrainian National Home (140-142 Second Avenue) is where the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus used to hold its board meetings (I was a very derelict member of their board way back when), as well as where the Manhattan Libertarian Party met on occasion (full disclosure, I am a recovering Libertarian). In both cases, the attraction was twofold: a romantic connection with the political radicalism of yore…and a very dress-down informal environment where you could get a cheap meal, sit a dozen people at a couple of pushed-together tables, and stay for two hours instead of the typical 45 minutes. It opened in 1963, and is still going, so you should give them your trade! As for the Ukrainian National Home, New York’s branch doesn’t seem to have a website of their own, but here is the one in Hartford, if you would like to inquire about where to make a donation.

Veselka (144 Second Avenue, yes, next door to Ukrainian East Village Restaurant, this is a neighborhood) is what I think of as the “fancy” Ukrainian restaurant. I’ve only eaten there a couple of times, but my wife has told me she has spent a lot of time there, for the same reasons I spent a lot of time at the other two restaurants I’ve mentioned — the handy East Village location, at times when we were spending all our time creating theatre in that neighborhood. And, in this case, the cuisine is very good. They’ve been in operation since the mid 1950s. They are a going concern: book your table here.

Little Odessa is one of the nicknames for Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Having spent so much time in Coney Island, it’s only natural that I have also spent many hours in the neighborhood next door, just a short hike down the boardwalk. One tends to think of it as the Russian neighborhood, but really, its inhabitants include immigrants from many of the nations of the former Soviet Union, and obviously its name is from the great Ukrainian resort town on the Black Sea, a favorite vacation spot for Russians as well as Ukrainians. This recent Reuters article paints a nice picture of the neighborhood, and how people of both nationalities are dealing with the current crisis.

This is just a personal window into my own limited history with a local community I have made no special effort to get to know, and yet impacted me in a positive way. My good friend David Mulkins of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors has let me know about a helpful resource for emergency aid and support of Ukraine to which you may wish to donate: Razom for Ukraine (a.k.a. Together for Ukraine). They are a not-for-profit organization that has been organizing an emergency response and for amplifying Ukrainian voices. It’s also a good resource for upcoming rallies and events: