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From Russia, With Lots of Mystery

Russian Roulette in Century City is full of characters out of a Bond movie. And that's just the beginning.

April 19, 2001|DIANNE BATES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hollywood clubs are so in-your-face that they miss all opportunity for mystery. People used to have secrets. Hidden agendas.

At Russian Roulette, there's still a taste of mystery. You won't find the usual nomadic cliques of semi-celebs at this nightclub. In fact, you never know who you'll find at Russian Roulette. Like the game itself, it's hit-or-miss.

Located in the decidedly un-club-like ABC Entertainment Complex in Century City, Russian Roulette's front-room decor is a retina-bending 1960s green, a green as deep and rich as the color of Russian earth, dark and mossy. Rugs, curtains, upholstery, bar, tablecloths and napkins are all precisely the same shade. Like a Moscow-themed casino-without-the-slot-machines green. A small red poster of Lenin decorates the bar. Celebrity pictures line the walls. Viva Las Kiev.

The club is full of characters so thoroughly out of an early James Bond movie that first-timers may think they are hired actors. There's Natasha, the beautiful girl at the front desk, her seductive accent could send men to their doom. Daniel is the handsome, serious bartender standing in front of 40 types of Russian vodka. Tony, a short, hard-looking guy who looks like he's actually met Bond lurks by the bar. And these are just the people who work there.

For the last two years, Russian Roulette has been owned by Tony Tenenbaum (the guy at the bar), and Sergei Tsoy, who are from Kiev. The club attracts local Russians, and that is part of the fun. Dress is so varied that anything goes. Elegant evening clothes, casual leathers and even some folk-costume elements abound.

The dinner menu is loaded with Russian favorites: sturgeon, blini with caviar, cabbage platters, even duck with fruit rice, comrades. If you're on a diet, stay home, because your pleas for low-fat food will fall on deaf ears.

Beyond the front room and bar is the huge banquet room and stage. Crystal chandeliers and wall sconces provide showy elegance. On Fridays, $45 gets a four-course Russian meal with vodka or champagne and a live rock band that plays a strange hybrid of folk and mambo-ish pop for dancing. On Saturdays, the $55 price includes all of the above but also features a 45-minute blast of a stage show.

As it begins, the music and lights go low and a half-dozen girls dressed in Russian folk costumes solemnly file onto the stage, then dip and sway to mesmerizing traditional melodies. Later, a female dancer dressed in a riot of colorful gypsy clothes does a seductive and stirring solo. She is joined by a male dancer, and the pace and pitch start to pick up. Suddenly the stage is full of gypsy dancers and loud music and everyone in the audience is standing and clapping and singing and toasting and yelling and forgetting their diets and forgetting that George W. is in office and it looks like we're gonna be mad at the Russians again.

After the show ends, people of all ages and sexes here jump on the dance floor and boogie to the band. Vodka can be so liberating. Then they empty out to their cars that are conveniently parked in the garage below, leaving a few stragglers behind to drink at the bar with guys who look like they know something we don't. What's not to like?

The festivities make Russian Roulette seem like a club for special events, not the kind of place you'd want to hang every night. (The green alone would kill you.) But it is an antidote to the Sunset Strip club rut. And if you appreciate all the sexy Cold War attraction of "From Russia With Love," you might find yourself back at the bar asking questions no one will answer.

*

* Russian Roulette, 2040 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. Fridays to Sundays, 8 p.m.-2:30 a.m. $40-$55, includes show and banquet dinner. Parking $5. 21 and older in the bar. (310) 553-5800.

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