Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Manhattan Cocktail, a Stilton Burger and a Naked Lady

It is a dark and snowy night. I turn the corner at West 36th Street and Sixth Avenue in New York, and enter Keen’s Steakhouse. History, red meat, nudity and brown spirits await me.

Inside, I locate my friend Rosemary. She is my home decluttering guru. Once she organized my kitchen, and today continues to offer counsel on keeping my life clutter free, which is a beautiful thing to have when circumstances get messy. Rosemary is a bit of a cocktail queen – and quite adept at dispensing advice – so I have been encouraging her to embark on a new career as a mixologist. Keen’s was established circa 1885 – and is renowned for its selection of brown spirits – so we are there to soak up the atmosphere, along with a few cocktails. At the door, Keens displays a parchment that lists “The Virtues of Whiskey.”

Rosemary is petite, but a force to be reckoned with. She has staked out a spot at the bar among a team of linebackers who are aggressively pushing in for their drinks. I squeeze my way in. She’s nursing a bit of a cold, and has already ordered an Old Fashioned. I signal the bartender and request a Manhattan Cocktail – my Dad’s favorite drink. I’m carrying on the legacy, as are several of my brothers.

Keen’s has a notable history as a chophouse, and a haunt for actors and celebrities of all kinds. The British actress Lillie Langtry got into a row with Keen’s over a mutton chop at the turn of the last century, and the likes of J.P. Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, John Barrymore and Babe Ruth have frequented the spot. At the front door, encased in glass, is a collection of clay pipes that belonged to some of the most famous patrons.

Above the bar, framed by rows of whisky bottles, is a large painting of a buxom, totally naked woman lounging in a provocative pose. At first, I think it’s the Manhattan Cocktail, but yes, the woman is completely au natural. Under the painting is the inscription “Miss Keens.”

My imagination runs wild. Who was she? The owner? The owner’s paramour? A Lady Godiva wannabe? And what might have inspired her to take it all off? There must be a scandalous “only in New York” story behind this salacious portrait. But, at this point we suddenly realize we are starving and are distracted by the pub menu.

I point out to Rosemary that Miss Keens actually has a menu item named after her – the Miss Keens Burger. Listed below that is what sounds like a rather ordinary “Hamburger.” We ask the bartender how the two are different, fully expecting the burger named after the voluptuous Miss Keens to be an extravagant treat. Oddly enough, the Miss Keens Burger is the low carb menu item. It comes stripped naked without a bun (I suppose there’s something oddly poetic about that) and a side salad. But, the lowly “Hamburger” comes with fries and can be dressed up anyway we like it. We decide to order a hunk of Stilton Cheese melted on top. The kitchen staff is even nice enough to split the burger in half making it easier to share. The combination of savory beef and pungent Stilton is intoxicating.


As we are leaving, I ask the bartender, “So, who was Miss Keens, anyway?” He tells me nobody is really sure. The owner liked the painting, bought it, place it above the bar, and christened it “Miss Keens.”

Only in New York, indeed.

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

21 comments:

Fresh Local and Best said...

Ah! The owners of Keen's have a great sense of humor. What a treasured artifact Keen's steakhouse must be. Those burgers look incredible with the lofty buns and stilton cheese. I could never refuse thick cut fries, terrible for you, but irresistible.

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a delightful story of Keen's and the famous owner.

How interesting that you've featured a Manhattan today. We were at a party the other night where someone was drinking a Manhattan. My husband commented he hadn't had a Manhattan in years and now he was craving one. Yesterday we acquired the necessary ingredients and it will be his weekend cocktail tonight. Now if only we had that burger to go with it...
Sam

Andrea said...

You had me at Manhattan! I've never been to Keen's, but now it's on my list!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Haven't been to Keen's for years! Thanks for bringing back the sounds and sights. It was one of my dad's favorites places in New York, and we used to go there for special occasions -- even the special occasions he made up, just so we could go.

Natalia said...

what a terrific night....the title of this post is soooo irresistible!
You may have inspired me to actually make a cocktail!

Kat said...

Loved the story of Miss Keens! I so enjoy going on these "journeys" with you. Thanks.

lostpastremembered said...

Love Keens. It really is a splendid throwback. I am so old I remember when it was taken over and redone. It was a mess and yet everyone was worried they would hurt it. As it was the renovation was thoughtful and they have kept it up. It looks well kept and yet lived in like any great old house should be.
Cocktails look great and love that Stilton Burger as well as the famous mutton chop (which Brit friends told me was not mutton, rather old lamb or hogget –– whatever!) I think it's time for another visit, you have inspired me!

Gloria said...

Love Manhattan (lol) this is a really nice post!! gloria

~~louise~~ said...

I too have fond memories of the Manhattan, T.W. It was my husbands "go to" drink. As a matter of fact, I will be partaking in my yearly ritual of making myself one tomorrow evening celebrating the day he was born...

Thanks for sharing...

Catherine said...

Dear T.W., Good adventure!
Well, I guess when people are at the bar they decide who this mystery lady is. It fills many a fantasy I am sure.
I always say, there is nothing like a good burger and it sounds like you were not disappointed.
Blessings for a beautiful week, Catherine

Barbara said...

What fun! I've never been there, but it's going on my list for my next visit. Loved this post, TW and the photos. I would think a burger with stilton would be fabulous.
I often worry that the cocktail scene is disappearing...a sad state of affairs. Pleased to see this is NOT the case.

Jann said...

Manhattans are the only mixed drinks I indulge in~I am especially fond of the cherries found at the bottom of the glass! When you find an establishment that makes a great cocktail, you never forget. Sounds like you found yourself a great place to spend an evening for a mea~with a wonderful friend! Cheers!

Helene said...

Never heard of that place, the meal looks yummy. We never order cocktails but are usually beer or wine drinkers.

Mary said...

I love places that have history associated with them. This certainly is one of them and the original Keens must have been a bit of a tease, knowing the questions the portrait would raise. The hamburger, by the way, sounds delicious. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Kathy said...

You have me laughing about the Miss Keens Burger. I'll take the Stilton too. Really enjoyed your description of the place.

Angela/Soap Mom's Kitchen/Sutherland Soap Creamery said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. It is very well written, I could actually picture myself sitting at the bar having a cocktail and eating that wonderful Stilton Burger. YUM!

Norma Chang said...

Read your comment on Sophie Foodie File, Vegan Marinated Tofu. I think you will enjoy my Hoisin Tofu with Nuts and 3 Peppers recipe that I posted on 2/17/12.

Hotly Spiced said...

That is a great title for a post. It drew me in! What a great place for a drink and a New York type of meal. My sister lives in NY but has just been transferred to LA. They're really going to miss all the places like this. Only in New York!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Manhattans and Old Fashions are two of my husband's favorite cocktails. We would have enjoyed spending the evening at the restaurant with you and Miss Keens.

Velva said...

I have not had a Manhattan cocktail in years.

Love the idea of the NYC bar-ordering a Manhattan, a huge painting of naked woman christened anyone you want to be when you bought it-I think saying that it is Mrs. Keens is pretty cool, it provides a good conversation for the patrons.

Rosemary Flannery at FromClutter2Clarity said...

Well Tom, the history of Keens continues to unfold. Here is the latest piece of evidence.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/nyregion/pipe-from-keens-steakhouse-is-claimed-and-smoked-decades-after-storage.html?_r=1&nl=nyregion&emc=ura2

Rosemary @fromclutter2clarity