New York City…….”What dreams are made of?” People often ask me, “What is your most memorable meal?” I’m always left pondering and racking the culinary part of my brain for the one perfect meal. Eureka! I have it and it is still as fresh in my mind as it was fresh in my mouth back in November of 2009.
Keens Steakhouse-- 72 West 36 Street—10 ounces of perfectly fire roasted mouthwatering filet of beef. To accompany my fleshy mound of goodness I feasted on frits and a sauce boat full of velvety smooth béarnaise sauce. I ended the meal with a classic crème brulee and a glass of port.
I came to know of Keens via my husband, John. The late Judge Cobb, John and Tom Cobb were guided to Keens by Mr. Tanner Hunt in 1997. I imagine the Cobb men sipping scotch and smoking cigarettes at the bar; casually taking in the day and enjoying one another’s company.
For dinner they may have dined on mutton chops and Judge probably had steak and frits.
Back in the Lincoln room I was surrounded by old black and white photos of members from the Lamb's Club from the late 1800's. For a moment I felt as if I were dining with ghosts. The faces that lined the walls could have been speaking to me, maybe they would've said, "You have a lot to learn, young lady." I took all of it in and enjoyed every second of the nostalgia.
It was so refreshing to find such a place that have been creating the same magic the same way for over a hundred years. Not only was I blown away by the fabulous food and the impeccable service but the ambiance, oh the ambiance, it was hauntingly terrific on so many “Keen” levels.
Keens Steakhouse owns the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world. The tradition of checking one’s pipe at the inn had its origins in 17th century Merry Old England where travelers kept their clay at their favorite inn – the thin stemmed pipe being too fragile to be carried in purse or saddlebag. Pipe smoking was known since Elizabethan times to be beneficial for dissipating “evil homourse of the brain.” Keens’ pipe tradition began in the early 20th century.
The membership roster of the Pipe Club contained over ninety thousand names, including those of Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Billy Rose, Grace Moore, Albert Einstein, George M. Cohan, J.P. Morgan, Stanford White, John Barrymore, David Belasco, Adlai Stevenson, General Douglas MacArthur and “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
Prior to 1885, Keens was a part of the Lambs Club, a famous theatre and literary group founded in London. Its manager was Albert Keen. In 1885 Keens Chophouse opened independently under the ownership of Albert Keen, by then a noted figure in the Herald Square Theatre District. Keens soon became the lively and accepted rendezvous of the famous. Actors in full stage make-up hurried through the rear door to “fortify” themselves between acts at the neighboring Garrick Theatre. By the time Keens celebrated its 20th anniversary; you could glance into the Pipe Room and see the jovial congregations of producers, playwrights, publishers and newspaper men who frequented Keens.In 1905 Lillie Langtry, actress and paramour of King Edward of England, took Keens to court for having denied her access to its gentlemen-only premises. She won her case, swept into Keens in her feathered boa and proceeded to order one of our famous mutton chops.
Today, Keens is the only survivor of the Herald Square Theatre District. In an age which tears down so much of the past it is comforting to find one landmark which survives . . .