Here’s Looking at You: Lunch at Keens

Banquet Lincoln over1 Heres Looking at You: Lunch at Keens

The Lincoln Banquet Room at Keens

We last wrote about Keens Steakhouse on West 36th Street in September in our very first blog entry. We’re going back to Keens today as we begin a series of features about the restaurants that have generously donated prizes for our “Dine Like a Mad Man” Sweepstakes. (Entry info below. For more on the prizes, click here.) It was called Keens Chophouse in Don Draper’s day, but much about Keens remains the same today. And that’s a good thing because you won’t find a better steak or Caesar salad in New York than Keens’. We’ve often commented, as have others, on Mad Men’s fastidious attention to period detail, including the food and drink. But when we visited Keens last year we noticed that it didn’t resemble the Keens depicted in Mad Men (Season 3, Episode 4, “The Arrangements”) where Don, Pete Campbell and Pete’s friend Horace (“Hoho”) Cook retire to discuss Hoho’s half-baked plans to make jai alai a major national sport. Perhaps its expecting too much for a show filmed in L.A. to recreate the interiors of every New York restaurant depicted, but Keens’ warm, Victorian interior is very distinctive (that’s Keens in the banner of our blog): the ceiling is lined with tens of thousands of clay churchwarden pipes that belonged to members of the city’s Pipe Club which originated at Keens in the early 1900s. We were surprised when Keens Executive Chef Bill Rodgers told us that until we contacted him while writing The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook he had no idea there was a Mad Men scene in a recreated Keens.

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Keens Famous Mutton Chop

If you had been the fourth at lunch with Don, Pete and Hoho at Keens in 1962, the cover of the lunch menu delivered by your waiter would have read, “Here’s Looking at You” and the mutton chop, priced at $6.95, was highly touted: “With special pride we recommend Keens’ Famous English Mutton Chop (There is nothing else like it).” Today, be prepared to pay $45 for what a reviewer for New York Magazine called, “a colossal roasted hunk of flavorfulAbout Mutton Ad1 Heres Looking at You: Lunch at Keens mature lamb.” Keens mutton chop has been fawned over by critics from James Beard to Frank Bruni. The restaurant opened in 1885 and when it served its one-millionth mutton chop it was news worthy of The New York Times…in 1935! (For more on the history of Keens, visit their web site.) We feature Keens excellent Caesar Salad in our book, a recipe that remains unchanged since the Mad Men era. But many other Keens staples remain as popular today as they were half a century ago. According to Bill Rodgers the English Mutton Chop, Filet Mignon, and Prime Rib are still favorites as are the Crabmeat Cocktail, Cape Cod Oysters, Oysters Rockefeller and sliced tomato salad with onion and Stilton cheese. Food fads come and go but Keens remains true to its chophouse origins.

If you want to try Keens for yourself, you’ll have chance if you enter our Dine Like a Mad Men Sweepstakes. Visit our Facebook page and click “Dine Like a Mad Man.” You could win dinner for two courtesy of Keens!

New York, New York….It’s a Wonderful Town

Last March, while we were researching and writing The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, we headed to the Big Apple with our sons, Danny and Noah to check out a few Mad Men haunts and to wander the streets of midtown Manhattan around Madison Avenue. We’d been so immersed in the world of 1960s New York, we wanted to see and feel and smell the city where Don Draper and Roger Sterling drank their cocktails and dined with their clients.

Shortly after checking into our hotel room, which offered an expansive view of midtown, we joined the throngs that pulsate through the streets of New York like blood flows through arteries. It was a kick to pass many of the hotels, bars and restaurants featured in Mad Men: the Waldorf-Astoria, the Roosevelt and P.J. Clarke’s among them.

Our first destination: the Grand Central Oyster Bar, located one level down from the street in Grand Central Station at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. To say Grand Central is a train station is like saying St. Peter’s Basilica is a church. Grand Central Station is a spectacular piece of architecture that conjures the golden age of rail travel when the rich and famous and powerful hitched their private coaches to trains bound for Miami, New England, Chicago and points west.

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The Grand Central Oyster Bar

The Oyster Bar, which opened in 1913, is a cavernous, bustling place, a series of domed spaces with a centrally located bar. It has served the freshest oysters in New York to presidents, high rollers such as financier “Diamond Jim” Brady, and weary travelers alike. When Don Draper and Roger Sterling take an extended and well lubricated lunch in season 1, episode 7 (“Red in the Face”), this was their likely destination for they each downed two dozen oysters that day.

Like Don and Roger, we opted to try a selection of fresh oysters our waitress recommended. But we were really there to taste the Oysters Rockefeller, and when this dish arrived, we were surprised at how different the current recipe is from the Oyster Bar’s 1960s recipe. Today the Grand Central Oyster Bar serves Oysters Rockefeller in a bed of creamed spinach and glazed with hollandaise sauce; in the Mad Men era, each oyster was coated with a spinach, shallot, parsley bread crumb topping (with a hint of alcohol) baked and served right in the pan.  This is the recipe we chose for our book because was our goal was to include only recipes authentic to the period.

 New York, New York….It’s a Wonderful Town

The Grand Central Oyster Bar’s modern version of Oysters Rockefeller

Our next stop (the one the steak-loving boys were eagerly anticipating) was Keens Steakhouse, formerly Keens Chophouse, on West 36th Street, the restaurant where Don, Pete Campbell and Pete’s jai alai obsessed friend Horace Cook retire for dinner one night. (Season 3, Episode 4, “The Arrangements.”)

The spacious, high-ceilinged Keens depicted in Mad Men doesn’t resemble the real one, however. (That’s Keens pictured just below the title of our blog.) Keens, founded in 1885 in what was then the Herald Square Theater District, is far more intimate and clubby. Its low ceiling is lined with tens of thousands of clay churchwarden pipes, each numbered and carefully catalogued by a pipe warden so pipe boys would be sure to deliver the right smoking device to each one of the 90,000 members of the Pipe Club, a group that originated at Keens in the early 1900s. In the foyer at Keens there are pipes on display used by such luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, General Douglas MacArthur, Will Rogers, and Babe Ruth.

 New York, New York….It’s a Wonderful Town

Danny and Noah outside of Keens

Judy isn’t a steak-eater, but savored the crab cakes. Peter and the boys enjoyed thick, juicy, perfectly prepared sirloins. The main courses were just a bonus; we came for Keens’ legendary Caesar Salad, the recipe for which is unchanged since the 1960s and which Executive Chef Bill Rodgers kindly shared for our book.

Fully sated, our final stop for the evening involved a different kind of mad men (and women): we had tickets to take in a more modern day New York experience: Saturday Night Live (thank you, Tom).

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On the set of Saturday Night Live with Eugene Lee, SNL’s set designer since the show premiered in 1975

Walking back to the hotel at one in the morning, the streets were still very much alive and we reflected on how much New York has changed since we grew up in the city’s suburbs decades ago. The city is safer, cleaner and more electric than ever. But plenty of old New York – the iconic eateries, the classic buildings, and the street characters that are such an integral part of the city’s vibe – remain.