Siberia is known as a cold, inhospitable place in Russia; political prisoners were sent to work camps in Siberia and never heard from again. “Siberia,” in slang, is any such similar unfriendly and unwelcome place. In the restaurant world, “Siberia” is the worst table or area of a restaurant.
New York City’s El Morocco nightclub was said to have a ‘Siberia” section (cited in print since at least 1954) where the less-favored patrons were seated. The second floor of New York’s Russian Tea Room also was called “Siberia.” The term “Siberia” is now applied to any such section of any (usually expensive) restaurant.
Wikipedia: El Morocco
El Morocco (sometimes nicknamed Elmo or Elmer) was a 20th century Manhattan nightclub frequented by the rich and famous in the 1930s and 1950s. It was famous for its blue zebra-stripe motif (designed by Vernon MacFarlane) and its official photographer, Jerome Zerbe.
In 1931, John Perona (born Eriane Giovanni Perona in Chiaverano in the Province of Turin, Italy), an Italian immigrant, with Martín de Alzaga opened El Morocco as a speakeasy at 154 East 54th Street, on the south side of 54th Street in the middle of the block between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue, where the Citigroup Center now stands.
After prohibition was repealed, it became one of the most popular establishments in New York City. Its regular clientele consisted of fashionable society, politicians, and entertainers.
Wikipedia: Russian Tea Room
The Russian Tea Room is a restaurant in New York City, located at 150 West 57th Street between Carnegie Hall Tower and Metropolitan Tower.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Etymology: < the name of Siberia, a region of the U.S.S.R. in Asia.
Used as a type of a cold, inhospitable place, or a place of exile, banishment, or imprisonment. Also fig.
1841 ‘G. Eliot’ Let. 17 Feb. (1954) I. 81 Probably this projected transportation may be to a Cape of Good Hope instead of a Siberia.
1876 C. M. Yonge Three Brides I. x. 159, I used to be Camilla to all the neighbourhood, and here I find myself‥banished to Siberia.
1926 C. Plumb in Oxf. Poetry 1925 40 The seas shall not seem vast Siberias of Time.
19 February 1954, Toledo (OH) Blade, “Rita Now Nonchalant About Her Glamor” by Dorothy Kilgallen, Peach Section, pg. 2, col. 4:
Dick McClusky, ex-husband of Ellen Lehman, is now seated in deepest Siberia in El Morocco.
Volume 36, Issue 4
... there a glittering buddy-chum-pal of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who, as a gas-station attendant encountered his own special fairy godmother on a best-forgotten day when a very rich woman drove up with an almost empty tank; there a bright butterfly who was once a waitress in Oklahoma, but is now much envied for never having to sit at the far end of El Morocco, an exile so humiliating as to be known as “Siberia”; there all the clay from which was shaped many a form to grace Manhattan dance floors.
10 October 1960, New York (NY) Times, “Can a Night Club Change Its Stripes? ‘No,’ Says Decorator of El Morocco” by Gloria Emerson, pg. 38:
A curious superstition has always prevailed at the old El Morocco. One side of the main room, no different from the other in any way, has always been considered the “wrong side.” It has even been referred to as “Siberia.” Mr. Rybar feels that people will still resist sitting on the far side of the room because it implies they are not important enough to be in a more choice position.
The Show Business Nobody Knows
By Earl Wilson
London: W.H. Allen
At El Morocco the ultimate snobbism was provided by the “wrong side of the room” — the area beyond the dance floor that divided the room. It was nicknamed Siberia. “I refuse to sit in Siberia,” Peggy Hopkins Joyce had said, and many other people eventually made the same remark. In this case, however, the distinction did not please the owner.
11 January 1981, Baltimore (MD) Sun, “Offered Star Status—and They Blew It,” pg. SM2:
SOME friends of ours escaped to New York for a couple of days recently, and while there they went to the Russian Tea Room for lunch.
If she doesn’t, you’re banished to ‘Siberia,’ the dining room in back where we sat.
17 July 1983, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Hollywood East --The Russian Tea Room” by Paul Rosenfield, pg. R1:
And what about Siberia? Is there a Siberia at the Russian Tea Room? In other words, is there a terrible side of the room, to avoid at all costs?
7 November 1988, New York magazine, “Table Envy: The best seats in town, who gets them—and how to avoid Siberia” by Michael Gross, pg. 49, col. 3:
El Morocco’s Perona may have been the first to use the term “Siberia” for a restaurant’s undesirable section. “He would put the unknown and the ugly in the back behind the dance floor,” recalls Orsini.
”Mettili in Siberia“ ("Put them in Siberia"), Perona would say.
New York (NY) Times
Table Envy: Notes From Siberia
By RICK MARIN
Published: September 01, 1999
WHO doesn’t have a bad-table story?
Eat out enough in this city, and chances are some maitre or maitresse d’hotel is going to stick you in Siberia. Once used for the tourist-trap second floor at the old Russian Tea Room, the term Siberia has become a metaphor for second-class seating. To the right of the door at Nobu. The frisbee-size table at the entrance of Balthazar. Behind a column at Mercer Kitchen or Pop. In any place’s obvious bad-table zone: a drab tacked-on room, next to a swinging kitchen door or the restrooms, within earshot of a nerve-jangling service station.
New York (NY) Daily News
Stirring Return For Tea Room Lavish Touches Sparkle As Classic Restaurant Recaptures Its Old Glory
BY LAUREN RUBIN AND BILL BELL DAILY NEWS FEATURE WRITERS
Monday, October 11, 1999
It is still located — in the words of its celebrated old radio ad — 6 minutes and 23 seconds from Lincoln Center.
But the address is about the only thing left from the old Russian Tea Room.
The new Russian Tea Room — now owned by Warner LeRoy, the showman-restaurateur who also runs Tavern on the Green — reopens tonight after a $20 million, four-year facelift that has brought one of the city’s toniest nightspots back to its former glory — and then some.
The second floor — once sarcastically dubbed Siberia — now boasts a 15-foot, 2,500-pound revolving acrylic bear, which is actually an aquarium filled with caviar-producing sturgeon.
Grub Street New York
Congratulations: You’re Headed to Siberia!
2/28/07 at 09:00 AM
You are sequestered in a secondary room. The term “Siberia” was coined to describe the upstairs dining room at Warner LeRoy’s Russian Tea Room. As in LeRoy’s day, any anteroom, lounge area, or brand-new second dining room is automatically Siberia.
John Mariani’s Dictionary for a Modern Diner
October 18, 2011 at 6:17PM by John Mariani
Siberia: A mythical space in restaurants where everyone else believe they are, in fact, seated.
New York City • Restaurants/Bars/Coffeehouses/Food Stores • (1) Comments • Friday, October 21, 2011 • Permalink