America's Classic: Keens Steakhouse

 

72 W. 36th Street, NYC 
Owner: George Schwarz

 

New York City specializes in new restaurants, not old ones, and local interest in them is generally measured in months instead of years. So it’s nothing short of astonishing that a 120-something-year-old restaurant has managed to stay both relevant and wildly popular in the middle of Manhattan.

 

Albert Keen, a theater producer, opened the restaurant in 1885, when the Herald Square Theatre District thrived. Actors came in for a drink between acts. Today, the walls are decorated with over 50,000 clay pipes, donated by celebrated customers like Teddy Roosevelt and Albert Einstein, souvenirs from an era when smoke clouded many restaurants. George Schwarz, the current owner, took over in the late 1970s, investing much money and sweat equity in reviving the restaurant.

 

What Keens has always done well is to age and grill meat. It was one of the first restaurants to dry-age beef. It’s a terrific place to order a prime T-bone steak, well charred on the outside and juicy within, served with a tangy-sweet house steak sauce. But Keens's most famous cut of meat is not beef: it’s the 26-ounce mutton chop. In one of the restaurant's few nods to modernization, the mutton is now lamb, but it’s still accompanied by homemade mint jelly.

 

The menu is stocked with classics like shrimp cocktail, iceberg wedge with chunky blue cheese, and extra-thick slices of smoked bacon, served unadorned on a plate. And the bar at Keens is one of the more democratic places in the city. Yes, it is a destination for Wall Streeters, artists, and fashion editors, but it also draws shoppers from nearby Macy’s. The bar room is especially welcoming in the winter, when the fireplace roars and regulars nibble complimentary chicken wings or drink their way through the 275-plus selection of single-malt Scotches.

 

 

The America's Classic award is given to restaurants with timeless appeal, each beloved in its region for quality food that reflects the character of its community. Establishments must have been in existence for at least ten years and be locally owned.

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