In New York City, there are steakhouses to suit just about every whim. There are the grand old steakhouses like Keens, the clubby, sleek ones like STK, and everything in between. But there’s one steakhouse that deserves a spot at the table in the discussion of classic, masculine steakhouses, and might just be the best one of all: Bull & Bear, located inside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
For a pre-meal cocktail, you have two options: either take a seat at the restaurant’s bar (in the shadow of the original sculpture of a bull and bear that gave the restaurant its name), or get a table at Peacock Alley, the bar located off the hotel’s lobby. Both are incredibly old-school and swanky, and transport you back to an earlier era of drinking. If you opt for the latter, spring for modern interpretations of classic cocktails from a menu designed by renowned mixologist Frank Caiafa: The Martinez, with Ransom old tom gin, Noilly Prat sweet and dry vermouth, and Luxardo Maraschino, was a forerunner to the modern Martini; the 1860 Manhattan, with Elijah Craig single barrel bourbon, Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, and house-made bitters, is about as classic as it gets; and the Peacock Alley Champagne Cocktail, with champagne, fresh strawberry, and peppercorn-infused Galliano, deserves a spot in the hall of fame of New York cocktails.
Make your way through the hotel’s upscale shopping corridor and down to Bull & Bear, and you’ll enter the Platonic ideal of a steakhouse. The walls are covered in dark wood and antique mirrors, the carpet is deep maroon, and the chairs are leather-upholstered. We can imagine that once upon a time the air was perfumed with cigar smoke, but it’s still a stunningly old-school interior that’s a throwback to a time when if you thought of the word "steakhouse," this is what came to mind.
We had the opportunity to dine there recently at the invitation of the restaurant, and couldn’t have left more impressed. The menu is about as classic as it gets, but chef de cuisine Matt Schindler breathes new life into them. Onion soup gratinée is rich and flavorful, the classic Waldorf salad does its namesake proud, and iced shellfish are presented with the respect they deserve. But make sure you save room for the steak, cooked in an 1,800-degree char-broiler and topped with herb butter as it rests: porterhouse, New York strip, and long-bone rib-eye are aged for 28 days and cooked to perfection with a caramelized, salty crust, and optional (but not entirely necessary sauces include the classic peppercorn, bordelaise, béarnaise, and a rich, tomato-y house steak sauce. Those not in the mood for steak can opt for other steakhouse classics like veal Oscar, lobster Newburg, and Dover sole meunière. Make sure you order some lobster mac and cheese on the side; it’s out of this world.
In an era when every steakhouse is trying to deviate from the classic "dark wood and leather" approach, it’s great to see that one is embracing its history and heritage and encapsulating everything that we’ve come to know and love about great steakhouses. The feel is old-school and classic, but not stuffy or pretentious in the least. Next time you’re hankering for that tried-and-true steakhouse experience, Bull & Bear (and a visit to Peacock Alley beforehand) should be at the top of your list.
And don't forget to check out their monthly wine dinner in the private dining room; last month's showcased Cakebread Cellars and was a showstopper. Call 212-872-4606 for more details.