13 September 2007

A Note From Keens

Having lunch at Keens Steakhouse—formerly (very formerly) Keens English Chop House—is a sure way to experience time a bit differently. Inside, New York history expands to encompass several eras, while your own time tends to stand still. The "office" quickly vanishes, and the need to return to it disappears with it. Keens is a place where it's understood you'll be sitting down for a while, eating much, drinking much, and forgetting much. The world can wait, for Keens is a word unto itself.

Perhaps the thing keeping people in their seats are the rows upon rows of old, long-stemmed clay pipes that act as alternative ceiling insulation. They're enough to hypnotize even the least curious among us. There are just so many, so neatly arranged one next to the other, and so clean. (Someone's doing a bang-up dusting job.) If you believe the backstory, they were all smoked by someone once—someone probably now long since dead. The pipes of a few special owners are exhibited in a glass case near the entrance: Billy Rose, David Belasco, John Barrymore and, my favorite, Stanford White. They all ate here. They all smoked here!

The steakhouse is convenient to the Garment District, a fact I couldn't miss because of the two seedy old men seated next to me cursing up a blue streak about The Business. "She didn't like my sweater line, she said! I said, look, I brought out six sweaters!" "Just do the fuckin' job." "I bust my ass doing this!" I ate in the pub area. It's cozier and less expensive. From a menu of meat and more meat, I chose the prime rib sandwich, which, since I didn't specify how I wanted it done, came to me quite rare. It was good—a mouthful what with the blue cheese, carmelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes—if a bit overwhelming. The limeade for $4. Was it worth it? No. No limeaid is worth $4. But it was limeaid, and where are you gonna get that anymore?

But the thing I think I like about Keen's the most are the little notepads that can be found on the table, with the words printed in small type at the top left corner: "Notes taken at Keens." What do the mangement mean by leaving these little pads everywhere. Well, a number of things, as far as I can tell. One, bigwigs have business meals at Keens and may need to jot down a few notes. Two, Keens is the sort of place that sets you musing about life while you dine and imbibe, and you may want to record some of those musings. Three, they expect you may drink a bit while you're there, and you're certainly not going to remember what you said or did if you don't write it down. Four, a gentleman is always on the verge of writing something down and he may not have paper at the ready. And five, Keens has a sense of its own importance and presumes that notes taken by people eating there have an innate profundity and weight.

I won't begrudge them on that last point.


KSx said...

Brooks, this was as good as a visit to the restaurant for me.

Did you map out your 5 points on one of the pads?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks, Kurt. No, I didn't write the five points on the Keens pad. I swiped it and took it home!