Another Look at Keens Steakhouse, Formerly Keens Chophouse
Fork in the Road continues with our slow quest to find a restaurant to substitute for the splendid Peter Luger, which is difficult to get into without the sort of premeditation we're rarely capable of. The last place we tested was Old Homestead, which we found at least marginally acceptable as a substitute. Today we turn our gaze upon Keens Steakhouse (72 West 36th Street, 212-947-3636).
Leaf through the Zagat section called "Historic Places," and you'll find that Keens was founded in 1885, two years before Luger, accounting for the similarities in ambience. In fact, by most standards, Keens is cozier: Located in what seems like a house on the fringes of the Garment Center, the premises consists of two stories. On the ground floor is a greeting area with a very comfy couch. A door to the right leads to a barroom, where you can often get a table even when no reservations are available; to the left is a coat check, a waiting area, and stairs to the second floor; straight ahead is the main dining room, which is clad in very dark woods, with brass fixtures here and there, and framed playbills, newspaper reviews, and other such ephemera from the days when this area was the Theater District. There are a couple of fireplaces, too.
Oh, yeah, and there are blackened clay pipes hanging from the ceiling everywhere, from the days, supposedly, when being stylish involved imitating the Dutch, who used such pipes in New Amsterdam two centuries previously. Upstairs are meeting rooms with names commemorating politicians and thespians of long ago. The rooms look so cozy, you might wish you'd gotten a group together and thrown a party.
Of course, Luger is attractive, too, in a more no-nonsense way. While Luger has its one steak -- a humongous porterhouse, sliced and brought to you bathed in rich juices -- Keens has its famous mutton chop. Indeed, the name of the place used to be Keens Chophouse, which is a more colorful and interesting name than Keens Steakhouse, and recalls a bygone era when the mere mention of chops was enough to get people salivating.