Secrets of Keens, New York's Legendary Steakhouse

Staff Writer
The institution has been open since 1885
Keens Steakhouse
Keens Steakhouse

The restaurant is one of the oldest in New York.

Keens Steakhouse, a famous eatery located off New York's Herald Square, has been serving steak lovers since 1885.  If the walls of the restaurant could talk, they would be able to tell many stories of scandalous, historical and fascinating content. NewYork.com spoke with Keens' unofficial historian and director of service, James Conley to uncover the “Secrets of Keens.” 

Top 5 secrets of Keens:

1.The legendary mutton chop is not actually mutton (anymore): It's a lamb chop! Weighing in at 26 ounces, it is not only huge, but one of the best lamb chops the city has to offer. Keen’s used to serve Mutton, a one year old lamb, when it was popular prior to the 1970’s. In 1935, the one millionth (real) mutton chop was sold at Keen’s. After World War II, the chop was changed to the more in-favor lamb.

2. Keens has the largest collection of clay pipes in the world: A total of 90,000 clay pipes line the inside of the steakhouse. Members of Keen’s Pipe Club, including Theodore Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Liza Minnelli, Stanford White, Enrico Caruso and General Douglas MacArthur, would each have an assigned pipe card and serial number and if a member of the club passed away, the stem of their pipe would be cracked in memory of them. This stopped in the late 1970s; however, some clients have been accepted today, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg… the day before his city-wide smoking ban took effect.

3. A famous actress took a stand for women's rights here: Famous British actress and mistress of the King of England, Lillie Langtry, walked into the gentlemen’s-only restaurant one night in 1905 looking for a steak dinner. Langtry was quickly greeted by waiters who refused to serve her, so she sued the restaurant and won. Keens cleverly capitalized on the historic incident and held a dinner to honor Langtry. There is now a Lillie Langtry room within the restaurant commemorating the legendary activist. Visitors can also find the original menu from the Langtry dinner hanging outside the room.

4. There's a shrine to Abraham Lincoln here: Keens is the keeper of an enormously impressive artifact: the program that President Lincoln was holding in his hand when he was assassinated on April 15, 1865.  The Lincoln Room was built around the framed program and a newspaper clipping explaining the story of how the program came to Keens hangs beside it. Keen’s also holds a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address, a great piece of history hung in the Lincoln Room. Director Stephen Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis shared a dinner in the Lincoln Room when the film Lincoln debuted in 2012.

5. A doctor and a pop star saved Keens from obscurity: In 1977, Keens closed amid a bankruptcy. The following winter, George Schwarz, a radiation oncologist, and his wife, pop star Kiki Kogelnik, walked by the abandoned steakhouse and fell in love with the building. The couple decided to restore the establishment and reopened the restaurant the following year. Keens has been thriving under Schwarz's ownership ever since.

Uncover more hidden treasures at New York’s most amazing places with our Secrets of New York.

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