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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: White Shoes, Czar Nicholas, and 'Comes the Revolution!'

From Washington Lawyer, July/August 2013

By Jacob A. Stein

spectatorAs I was walking up Connecticut Avenue a few days ago, I saw what seemed to be a New York City–style Russian Tea Room. As I reached Dupont Circle, I took a seat on a shady bench to recall an event at the New York Russian Tea Room.

In 1956 a friend of mine, Harry Lacy, had an ownership interest in the exclusive men’s apparel shop located in the Colorado Building at 14th and G streets NW. The law firm of Hogan & Hartson had its offices in the same building. The senior partners at Hogan & Hartson were white shoe lawyers. Now a historical pair of shoes and the Russian Tea Room.

One of Harry’s interests was the fall of the Russian Empire and its last Czar, Nicholas II, who was assassinated along with his family. In one of Harry’s books, he came across a picture of the Czar all dressed up and wearing a pair of unusual black and white shoes. The shoes had a black strip between the toe and the laces (see picture). Harry decided that shoes like the Czar’s would sell in his shop.

shoesHarry sent the Czar’s picture to Alan McAfee, one of the best London shoemakers. Harry requested McAfee to make up six pairs. The shoes arrived two months later, including a special pair in Harry’s size.

Harry decided to go to New York and stroll around the Russian Tea Room just to see if the shoes attracted one of the exiles who sat at the bar. A dignified elderly gentleman with a Russian accent approached Harry and commented on the shoes. The gentleman told Harry that after he fled from the Bolsheviks, he went to London for 10 years. He was now living in New York. He was staring at Harry’s feet and brought up the subject of shoes, especially the Czar’s shoes. He asked Harry where he got those shoes. Harry told the gentleman the history of the shoes and when Harry returned to Washington, he carried on a correspondence with the Russian gentleman.

“What is your size? I bet it is an 11–1/2 medium.” Harry guessed right, as he always did. The Russian gentleman told Harry that in London, the Czar-style shoes are called co‑respondent shoes. In England, the only way to get an absolute divorce was catching one’s partner in the act of adultery. Many such cases were “fixed.” The husband and wife agreed that the husband would leave the Czar–style shoes outside the hotel room, ostensibly to be cleaned. The shoes were a signal that a “fixed” adultery was taking place within the bedroom. The housemaid was paid to see the shoes and “catch” the husband in flagrante delicto.

In July, Harry took another trip to the Russian Tea Room where an attractive woman introduced herself. She said she knew all about these Czar–style shoes. She also knew where the Czar’s daughter Anastasia was living. She was living right there in New York City, and Anastasia probably had the crown jewels. For a price, she would take Harry to see Anastasia. Harry assumed this woman contrived the story from the movie Anastasia starring Ingrid Bergman.

Harry took a third and final trip to the Tea Room. He was all dressed up in his white suit and his co–respondent shoes. After lunch, he stood in front of the Tea Room watching people strolling along 57th Street on a sunny New York Saturday afternoon.

Suddenly, a man in an old gray suit, wearing a bold red necktie, advanced toward Harry. In the man’s left hand was a ketchup bottle. He screamed: “You capitalists, you cheaters, well, comes the Revolution, people like you will be sweeping these streets.” The man threw the ketchup at Harry, yelling again, “Comes the revolution!” He kept saying “Comes the revolution” and disappeared into the crowd.

Harry’s suit went from white to red. He hailed a cab and returned to the Hotel Elysée where he was staying. He cleaned up, and then he called his New York tailor friend to bring him a suit, 41 regular. “When you get up here, I’ll tell you quite a story. Only in New York.”

Well, all that was long ago. Hogan & Hartson moved its offices from the Colorado Building to a new office building. The men’s store closed its doors, and there was one pair of co-respondent shoes still in the store.

Reach Jacob A. Stein at jstein@steinmitchell.com.