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Cool Bear Aquarium at the Russian Tea Room

By: Ed Kane

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As I pour a cup of spiced tea from an ancient-looking samovar, I gaze up at the giant towering over me. Near a shimmering tree of Faberge-style glass eggs, in the flicker of candlelight, stands the great Ursus, the symbol of Russia, precariously balancing four sparkling globes above my head. In his belly, oddly enough, swim six pink parrotfish.

Here on the second floor of New York City's world famous Russian Tea Room, stands a 15-foot-tall revolving aquarium in the shape of a bear. The bear, sculpted by Romanian Ovidiu Colea and designed by American artist Warner Leroy, originally housed several ornamental shovel-nosed sturgeon, keeping in theme with the Tea Room's signature item, caviar. Even though they don't produce the Tea Room's normal fare of Russian beluga, osetra, or sevruga caviar from the Caspian Sea, you get the picture.

The fish were specially stocked for the reopening of the Tea Room. However, the fish, normally bottom-feeders, liked to hang out in the bottom of the tank, and this didn't do much for the visual effects. So the uncooperative fish were shipped out and replaced with more adventurous Asian parrotfish.

How the Aquarium Was Made

To make this one-of-a-kind creation, mold maker Alphons Posholy, of Albania, assisted Colea. After mixing a substance called methylmethacrylate monomer and a polymer resin, the two poured the concoction into a huge bear-shaped mold and baked it in an autoclave under pressure. Because the process was so complex, the sculpture had to be cast in three parts. After the first and second sections were completed, they were joined together, baked again and refinished. The bear's head was then joined to its body. "The challenge was taking an enormous three-part structure, and blending it into one smooth unit," says Colea, who has sculptures in locations all over the world. "The bear's head had to close as gently as a lid on a jewelry box." The giant glass bear was delicately hand-carved and finished once it cooled. The whole process took approximately two to three months.

Martin Caceres, aquarium specialist, owner of Total Aquariums, Lynnbrook, N.Y., supervises the care and the maintenance of the aquarium. The fish are fed a balanced commercial fish diet, Aquadine, every other day. Every two weeks 60 to 70 percent of the water is replaced. "Since it revolves and is located on the restaurant's second floor, the aquarium's plumbing rotates also and the tank has a special refrigeration system to keep the water at a comfortable 77 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit," notes Caceres. Even the base of the aquarium has a rotating fresh water treatment and filter system.

To see the aquarium and to dine on some of the world's best caviar, call the Russian Tea Room at 212-974-2111 or visit www.russiantearoom.com.

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