25 October 2012

Gallagher's Steak House to Close After 85 Years

UPDATE: Looks like Gallagher's, thankfully, is changing hands, not closing down. More to come.


Now not even the stalwart steak houses are immune from the forced death march imposed upon New York's culinary and bibulous landmarks by cutthroat real estate values, a sunken economy and indifferent governing from City Hall.

Gallagher's Steak House, born in 1927, a child of the Roaring 20s, will die on Jan. 16.

Up until now, New York's iconic steak houses have seemed fortified against a New York that no longer seems to care about its New Yorkiness. Peter Luger's, Old Homestead, Smith & Wollensky, Keen's—they all still stand. Such places have always been patronized by fat cats with big bankrolls. As long as such luxurious creatures of business (and their expanse accounts) exist, cow palaces such as these have no worries. Such was the assumption. But rhe death of Gallagher's represents a worrisome fissure in the chop house facade.

Gallagher's began its existence as a Theatre District speakeasy, patronized by show folk, sports figures writers and politicians. It was founded by Helen Gallagher, a former Ziegfeld girl who had been married to Ed Gallagher of the famous vaudeville team Gallagher and Sheen; and her second husband, gambler Jack Solomon. When Prohibition ended in 1933, it continued on, business as usual, without missing a beat. When Helen died in 1943, Solomon married showgirl and florist Irene Hayes. Solomon died in 1963, leaving Irene sole owner. Hayes then sold to Jerome Brody, who had been the head of Restaurant Associates, the famous corporation which owned such places as Four Seasons, La Fonda de Sol and The Forum of the Twelve Caesars.

To most New Yorkers, Gallagher's is most famous for its sidewalk display of its wares. Large windows look into meat lockers, where various cuts of red meat sit and/or hang, a tantalized (or revolting, depending on your inclination) taste of the hearty fare that awaits inside.

In 1942, when LaGuardia's City Hall imposed a voluntary "meatless Tuesday" policy on the city, Gallagher's didn't even try to adapt; it closed. A sign in the window said: "Okay, Uncle Sam! We'll cooperate to the letter. We'll ever go you one better. Tuesday is meatless and also is eatless, for we will be closed on Tuesdays." The steak house fought bitterly with the government throughout WWII over meat rationing.

Gallagher's has franchise branches in Newark, Atlantic City and Las Vegas.


Toni Kamins said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention Gallagher and Sheen's other show- business connection. Al Sheen,born Albert Schoenberg had a sister named Minnie who married a guy named Marx. They had a bunch of kids best known as Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo.

TB at BlueCollarWorkman said...

Man, I don't even live in NYC and I hate to see that happen. A good steakhouse is a good steakhouse! It ain't right.

upstate johnny g said...

I always thought that you just couldn't miss with a steakhouse, practically anywhere, except India. All you really need is good meat and a person who can grill properly. These places are bastions of tradition reflected in both the decor and the menu. So, jumbo shrimp appetizers and creamed spinach are de rigeur and you don't have to hire a brigade of hotshot chefs to prepare these dishes. No one comes to a steakhouse for the sides, or expecting cutting edge cuisine. No molecular gastronomy here! Classic is the word. Play up the history with lots of photos of olde NY.....when Joe Torre still swung a bat instead of doing cameos on "Castle" and the hottest prep b-ball player was a kid named Alcindor. That's going to grab all the history and nostalgia fans, but the new kids on the Street....not so much. The other day I mentioned to a 30 something Manhattan exec that I had run into Ed Koch in Brooklyn and had a nice visit with him. My friend's response: "who's Ed Koch? Was he a mayor or something?" True story. This guy has the means to eat at steakhouses 9 days a week but could care less about the history of any of these places. In fact he would much prefer the sleek newness of Del Frisco and would probably look down his nose at the red checkered tablecloths and captains chairs at Gallaghers.

My take on the menu is that although the ads and web site keep stressing prime, dry-aged beef the menu only describes their "signature" sirloin as prime, dry-aged, not the other steaks. If the other cuts are not prime, dry-aged then I think the ads are a bit deceptive. Not outright trickery, because the menu is specific, but it all tends to invite the reader to assume that all their steaks are dry-aged and prime. It's not bad to have non-aged alternatives. I've found that a number of my friends do not like the intense beefy flavor of dry-aged beef. Also, I wonder where the porterhouse is on the menu. Should be there. I also get confused where their menu says that their signature sirloin is a strip steak. How can it be both? I understand that strip comes from the short loin and the sirloin is the next farther back section. Maybe I've got it wrong.

If you go to their website you can see where their emphasis has shifted: franchising! They are "building their brand" with worldwide aims, and now have franchises in Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Newark Airport! They'll be happy to discuss selling you a franchise for your city. Also, they now have another franchise opportunity: Burger Bar....for high end casual dining featuring gourmet burgers. The brand is the thing these days....it's just a variation on the old ad adage "you don't sell bacon, you sell the sizzle." Now you sell the brand, and once you get the brand established you can sell t-shirts with your logo (or anything with your logo) and make an even bigger killing. You'd think they'd want to keep a flagship store open in NYC to help in franchise marketing, but maybe they have figured out that they can market the concept of Gallaghers without there being an actual Gallaghers. If they tell potential franchisees that they can get a piece of the action generated by "legendary NYC steakhouse Gallaghers"....it just might work and they're not lying, because by then Gallaghers will just be a legend, a memory, not a real place. Sell the dream, baby.

So, how do they not own the building they're in? Then again, neither did Barbara at Bill's.