Russian Dolls: Brooklyn I Hardly Knew Ya
There's nothing quite like the summer when you can dive head first into reality TV and never look back. This week, I paid a visit to Brooklyn and checked in with the Russian Dolls. The brand new reality show, which airs Thursday nights on Lifetime Television, tells the story of several larger than life Russian women - ages twenty to fifty-something whose personalities are almost as big as their bank accounts.
Between Marina, the spoiled, rude and ridiculously wealthy wife of the guy who owns Rasputin, the hottest Russian nightclub in Brooklyn, and Diana, the 23 year old who dumps her Spanish boyfriend because her mom doesn't approve, the world these Russian women currently live in bears no resemblance to the Brooklyn neighborhood where I once grew up.
You see, back many moons ago, I was a Brooklyn girl too. I was born and raised in Canarsie - about five highway exits away from Brighton Beach. While all of my friends have sinced moved away and are scattered all over the country, many of us have still remained close because no matter where our lives have led, we will never forget the memories we made together during our teenage years. Some of my fondest memories about Brooklyn center around food. From the bagels, to the pizza, to the delis to the diners, when it comes to classic comfort food, Brooklyn definitely takes the cake...and let's not forget the amazing bakeries! Before there was Cake Boss, Teena's Cake Fair was a personal neighborhood favorite with lines that ran out the door on a regular basis.
While the ladies of Russian Dolls have their private bath house where they lounge around the pool and drink the day away, my friends and I had the Paerdegat Athletic Club. Located less than 10 blocks away from my house, I spent most of my weekends at "The Paerdegat" where my tennis teammates and close friends Randi, Lois and I would order egg salad on pita bread and then head to our lesson where we would laugh, joke and volley our way through a two hour session with our incredibly irritated coach who had no patience for our antics.
On the weekends, I'd head with my girlfriends to the UA movie theater in Sheepshead Bay - located about 10 minutes from Brighton Beach and from there, we'd hit the diner - either the KPD (the Kings Plaza Diner), the Arch, the Caravelle or the Floridian. I would order a bran muffin, my friend Beth would opt for melted mozzerella cheese on a bagel and one of us would inevitably order french fries and gravy and a Lime Ricky. My friend Laura wouldn't order anything but would then manage to graze on all our food - and as fate would have it, Laure was always the thinnest of the group.
My Brooklyn memories wouldn't be complete without a trip to my favorite 80's shopping mecca...Kings Plaza. Most of my friends worked at the mall - Julie was a cashier at Shatzkins (famous for pizza knishes) and Lois and I snagged a position at our favorite store, Benetton, where we learned how to fold clothes for the first time and were by far the best dressed girls on campus when we hit college the following year. One year, my brother managed a kiosk called Santa's Corner and he recruited all my Jewish friends to glue people's names on Christmas hats just in time for the holiday. As crazy as it seemed, I will never forget the countless hours my friends and I spent together fending off crowds of people wanting us to glue their family's name on a Santa hat. Did I mention I have the worst handwriting on the planet?
When it came to the night club scene, my girlfriends and I were more the dessert place crowd. We loved Jahn's - a legendary dessert place in Sheepshead Bay that's best known for the Kitchen Sink - which includes about 16 scoops of ice cream along with incredible toppings. While many Brooklyn girls hit the dance clubs, I never was a full fledged night club goer since I was too busy chowing down at the Arch or Jahn's. I did however manage to have my Sweet Sixteen at Pastel's, a club located in Bay Ridge that was decked out in my favorite color - purple. With our big hair and our oversized jersey dresses and leggings, we were quite the site back then.
As I look back, I guess the reality show of my teenaged life would never play as well as the drama that's currently taking place on Russian Dolls. I never had a grandmother who competed in a beauty pageant. I mean Grandma Dora could whip anyone's butt in a matzoh ball making competition but I never did see her belly dance. And while I've always dreamed of getting rid of the knee fat that's plagued me for life, my friends and I never obsessed about botox and baubles. Then again, maybe if we did, we would have gotten our own reality show.
Bagels, Bran Muffins and Benetton, has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Didn't think so.
"Russian Dolls" airs Thursdays at 11:30/10:30c on Lifetime. Check out the video below and get to know the women of Brighton Beach!