Korochka Tavern brings Russian inspired drinks and food to Lake City Way.

By Tiffany Ran
January 2, 2018

Cocktail culture as we know it isn’t prominent in Moscow and, at the time that Lisa Malinovskaya opened Korochka Tavern in a cozy, inconspicuous storefront on Lake City Way, it wasn’t very prominent there either. Thus, Malinovskaya’s take on a Russian bar started with plenty of room for interpretation and play.

A vintage Tetris arcade machine hangs out in the back. A bear rug on the wall, not on the floor, greets customers as they enter. And the royal wallpaper combined with round crystal hanging lights at the bar bring a heavy sense of regality to the mix. Today, Malinovskaya and co-owner Kendall Murphy operate Korochka with deft and a focus on simplicity, serving cocktails along with Russian bites and the juicy pelmeni (dumplings) served with a dollop of sour cream and an optional (but highly recommended) side of vinegar and house made red pepper sauce.

Lisa Malinovskaya and Kendall Murphy, co-owners of Korochka Tavern.

How do you pronounce “Korochka” and where did you get the idea for the name?

It’s Kore-Roche-Ka, and it means the crust of bread. It was a nickname I had as a child for being insensitive. It’s something my mom would call me.

How would you say Korochka is different from what you would typically find in Russia?

There’s not really such a thing as Russian cocktails. I think as crazy as we get is a shot of vodka in champagne. That’s about as wild as they get. We try to use ingredients that are based on Russian cuisine. We’ve used birch liqueur since drinking birch juice is common in Russia. When we were kids we used to tap into birch trees and collect the juice. There’s also black currant and sea buckthorn. We try to stick to a theme but it’s not traditional.

Where did you get the inspiration for opening a Russian themed bar?

I grew up in Moscow, which is a pretty big city, and you can find most anything there. Typically, drinking culture is pretty different, not like “go out for a drink” as much as drinking outside in the park. I think they recently outlawed outside drinking there. The “going out” culture is pretty different there. When I go back and I’m hanging out with friends, I’ll stay in a summer house and everybody just gets a bottle and some beers. We bring a spread of food: smoked herring is a big one, there’s also little sausages, cheeses, pickles, rye bread, and salty things.

Pelmeni, a Russian staple made like a dumpling and served with sour cream.

Who makes the pelmeni?

We used to make it ourselves and by the end of it, I was having nightmares about making them. I had specifically one where I made all the pelmeni and I put them into a bag and the bottom of the bag ripped and they all fell on the ground! I woke up screaming.

It was a bit much, and it was just very time consuming to make every little dumpling. We found a guy that makes them in Auburn. I think he has a little food truck too. He makes all our dumplings. There are a few things that we pickle ourselves and a lot of them are from a Russian deli.

You’ve made some adjustments transitioning from operating a coffee shop to a bar. How has that experience been and what have you learned?

I think if we’ve learned anything that there’s so many little details to attend to. Like there are so many different types lids and cups, straws, sugar packets we might need. We’ve built this to be simple, and not producing much waste. Since much of the menu involves pickles, things don’t go bad. It’s pretty nice in that sense.

A cocktail called the Trans-Siberian at Korocha Tavern.

Have you had to inform the public in any way about the Russian accents in your bar and menu or do you leave it up to them to experience and figure out?

If people ask, we’ll share, but we have quite a bit of Russian customers, not just specifically Russian but also post-Soviet Union Republic like Mongolian, Uzbeki, or Tajiki who get excited about this because there aren’t many Russian places. Everybody gets excited saying, “Oh I haven’t had this since I was a kid!”

Why did you choose Lake City Way for your location?

We were looking around for a while. It’s hard to find somebody who would rent to two women who didn’t own a house or have collateral like that. I saw this space driving by and I saw potential in it. I lived in Lake City in the past and I feel like there was not a single cocktail bar in the neighborhood at the time. We were looking for something smaller, that we can handle.

It’s different in Lake City. I feel that if we started something in Ballard or somewhere near the city, we would have to really know what we’re doing and we’d have a small window in which we could succeed or fail, and with Lake City its nice because we can adjust and adapt. People have been really good to us and excited that there is something like this here.