New York is supposed to be the great melting pot, the city of immigrants. But I have a story that I think beats anything from the Big Apple. Every day at noon, Russian businessmen working for Lukoil in their Plainpalais office walk next door to dine on Japanese food at the restaurant Takumi. Geneva is known as a cosmopolitan city, but the story behind the Russians eating in this particular restaurant stretches any definition of the word cosmopolitan.
In Nadejda Krupskaya's “Reminiscences of Lenin,” she describes how “The Bolshevik centre in Geneva stood on the corner of the famous Rue de Carouge – a street inhabited by Russian political emigrants – and the Arve embankment. The Vperyod editorial and dispatch offices, the Lepeshinskys' Bolshevik restaurant, and the apartments of the Bonch-Bruyeviches, the Lyadovs (Mandelstams) and the Ilyins were in the same building.” The wife of Lenin adds, “The Bolsheviks gathered almost every evening at the Cafe Landolt, and sat there for hours over a glass of beer, discussing events in Russia and making plans.”
Part of the history of Geneva is that the Bolsheviks met regularly in the Landolt, but folklore says that Lenin engrained his name on a table there. What happened to the Landolt? What happened to the table? As for the Landolt, it has gone through various owners and names, perhaps the most interesting given its history being the FBI. Today it is the Japanese Restaurant Takumi managed by Krasniqi Xhevat. Mr. Xhevat, from Kosovo, came to Switzerland in 1990 to join family in Neuchatel with only a simple suitcase. Today, he and his brother manage twelve Japanese and French restaurants in Geneva and four other restaurants in London.
What happened to the famous table? An article in the 03.08.2006 Tribune de Genève had several theories, including being burned, but today it is safely ensconced in the basement of Takumi, carefully watched over by Mr. Xhevat who is well aware of its history. “I don’t think the business people at Lukoil realize the significance of the table and restaurant,” he said, “but from time to time someone does drop in to ask.”
In addition,” he proudly points out, “there is a plaque on the outside wall commemorating the Landolt as a meeting place for the Portuguese opposition during the revolution of 1974 which was dedicated 25 years later.” If that’s not historically cosmopolitan enough, the grandson of the former King of Serbia frequently dines at the restaurant.
Even a proud New Yorker has difficulty imagining a more multinational story than that.