Samantha Turetsky, a Nova Southeastern University graduate student studying to become a psychologist, was recently surfing the Web when she stumbled on an ad for a Hallandale Beach restaurant featuring a Russian-style cabaret act with a live Bengal tiger.
Turetsky, concerned enough about animal rights to have signed a few petitions in the past, decided to start one herself. Her online appeal, urging Tatiana Restaurant and Night Club to pull the tiger from its show, exploded — generating about 150,000 signatures from around the world since she posted it two weeks ago on a website called care2.
And, just like that, the tiger’s cabaret career is over. The big cat, known as Cylon, won’t be appearing anymore in its cage on stage, according to Tatiana’s manager — a decision she insisted was made before the viral backlash.
“Some of the people liked the show because of the tiger, but we had so many complaints from people outside,” said Tanya, who identified herself as the manager of Tatiana but did not want to provide her last name. “We didn’t want people hating the restaurant because of the tiger.”
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“I'm shocked to hear they've stopped using the tiger,” said Turetsky, 24, who graduated from the University of Florida before attending grad school at NSU. “The goal was to get this tiger out of this loud nightclub scene, which must have been terrifying, and back into a wildlife preserve.”
Turetsky, however, considers her social media campaign a “partial success” because the tiger will continue to live at a Homestead facility that rents out exotic animals. Predators Unlimited, according to its website, is a nonprofit organization that teaches school children about wildlife but also allows outsiders to lease animals that live at a five-acre preserve on the southern edge of Everglades National Park.
Predators Unlimited did not return phone and email messages for comment.
Among Predators Unlimited’s regular customers over the years: Tatiana. The cavernous, opulent restaurant — named after its original owner, an “Odessa beauty” — is set in a strip mall just blocks from the beach. Tatiana’s lobby is lined with pictures of celebrities, such as Donald Trump, Henry Kissinger and Mickey Rourke, who have visited either the Hallandale Beach location or its two other establishments on Brighton Beach in Brooklyn.
Predators Unlimited started renting out the tiger to Tatiana in 2012, city records show. At the time, the city received a single complaint about the night club’s showcasing the tiger in its cabaret act but could do nothing about the issue, a Hallandale Beach official said. The city, which only deals with health and fire issues, referred the matter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Then, earlier this month, the city received another complaint and referred it again.
The supper club, owned by Tatiana and Michael Varzar, has heavily promoted the tiger in their online site. Their Hallandale Beach manager, Tanya, said they were in New York overseeing their restaurants.
One customer was quoted in a Google review as saying: “I love any restaurant that includes a shot glass with your place setting. But this isn't really just a restaurant, it's a Russian dinner club with a live show that involves TIGERS, fire, and flying duets. Definitely a fun spot for any celebration.”
But another customer, whose Google review was not posted on Tatiana’s Web page, had a totally different take: “Great food, the drinks are good, but the show was just ‘meh.’ I mean it would have been good if they just didn't have a TIGER in a cage, and the tiger looks absolutely miserable. Please if you are reading this get rid of your TIGER, your restaurant will be that much better without it and let’s be honest it does nothing for the show.”
Turetsky first noticed Tatiana and its tiger in an advertisement on the LivingSocial website earlier this month. She checked out Yelp, the site for restaurant reviews, and was struck by the number of critical postings about the the supper club and its tiger. Turetsky, who lives in Davie, has never been there herself.
“It just really bothered me,” Turetsky said, recalling “this tiger should be roaming freely as a wild animal.”
Turetsky turned to care2, a website for petition drives. She posted her petition on Oct. 13, and her cause caught fire.
The petition’s headline read: “Demand that Tatiana Restaurant and Night Club Retire Their Tiger to a Sanctuary!”
She wrote that Tatiana “is known for its Russian-style entertainment and carbaret shows. It is also known for the depressed-looking tiger that has been reported to be kept in a cage inside the restaurant, or being hauled on stage to the audio effects of tigers roaring. The actual cage is just large enough for the tiger to fit into, and not large enough for it to move around! Many reviewers on Yelp specifically comment on the fact that they are made uncomfortable by the tiger’s presence, as he looks very ‘sad’ and ‘kept licking himself.’ ”
Among those who spotted and signed Turetsky’s petition: Well-known animal rights activist Wendy King, of Hallandale Beach, who has led protests against the Miami Seaquarium’s use of Lolita, the killer whale featured in acrobatic acts for nearly a half century. King turned to her Facebook page to drum up interest in a Tatiana protest that she led outside the restaurant on the weekend of Oct. 18.
“I had to do something after seeing Samantha’s petition,” said King, who also contacted the FWC and the city of Hallandale Beach. “I think we made some customers think twice about going into the restaurant.”
Tatiana’s manager, Tanya, said the restaurant stopped using the tiger in its weekend cabaret act just days before Turetsky’s petition was posted on care2. But Turetsky questioned that claim, saying she called the restaurant before circulating her petition and asked whether the supper club was still using the tiger in its shows.
A man told her that the tiger was still part of the cabaret act.
“That’s unfortunate,” she recalled telling him. “I find that very cruel.”
She said his reply was terse: “That’s too bad.”
But the club’s manager, Tanya, insisted the tiger’s last cabaret act was on the weekend of Oct. 10. She said the Bengal is being replaced by a classic London telephone booth, but she could not say what its role will be in the revamped show.