23 February 2012

Reflections on Steak Row

This blog has occasionally reminisced about Steak Row, the gone-forever strip of utterly male, red-meat-and-strong-booze eateries that once lined East 45th Street between Lexington and First Avenue in Manhattan. They had names like the Pen and Pencil, The Editorial, and Danny's Hideaway. They were—it would seem obvious—favored by journalists and magazine people, as well as a smattering of celebrities.

Because of my posts, I occasionally get an odd e-mail from some odd Steak Row habitue taking a tour down memory lane. (I have made contact with the son of the owner of the Pen and Pencil this way.) Recently, a former customer of The Press Box contracted me, looking for information on the year and reason why the restaurant closed. 

The Press Box, at 139 E. 45th, was run by Henry Castello and Harry Storm, both former Pen and Pencil bartenders, along with former Voisin waiter captain Fred O. Manfredi. By 1973, it was owned by Michael Wayne. Max Klimavicius, one of the current owners of Sardi's, began his restaurant career at a dishwasher at The Press Box. Unlike many of former mainstays that once help the Steak Row chow houses, the Press Box building still exists. It's a Chinese restaurant today.

I had little help to offer this reader, but he shared a number of scintillating details with me.

The place seems to have been rather rakish, in a "Mad Men" sort of way. This eye-witness said the staff used to hand out "press cards," which permitted ladies to visit the men's room. What the women did when they went there is left up to our imagination.

More unbelievable is what the women would see when they got there. According to the source, the urinals were affixed with magnifying shaving mirrors which hung at about waist level. This, I guess, ensured that every booze-soaked newshound left the loo feeling like a big man.


Anonymous said...

I recall eating at Pen and Pencil in the early 80s? I was working at 45and 3rd (converted printing building). When did it close. am I misremembering?

Anonymous said...

I've been reading NYC papers for many decades now, and always remembered a story from the 1970s about the magnifying glasses mounted above the urinals, but didnt recall where the place was. Thanks for the update!

christina said...

I am Michael Wayne's daughter Christina. I used to visit my father at the Press Box when I was a young girl around six years old. He closed the restaurant in the seventies along with his other restaurants; The Assembly, The Old Homestead and The Double Dolphin. The times were changing and steak houses weren't as in vogue as they used to be and his business was suffering. He also lost money in the stock market crash in the early seventies and needed the money. I'm happy to give you more details if you would like them. Do you have any old photos? I'm trying to find them on the internet.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Pictures? I wish to God I did. I haven't found a one.

Anonymous said...

Just saw this place in a quick exterior shot on the Odd Couple. Episode featured Deacon Jones.
Thanks, Jen W.

Leslye said...

I used to eat at The Double Dolphin all the time and always really loved Inconfi the house salad dressing! I would be so happy if I could get that recipe, have been looking for it for decades! Any chance you might have it and be willing to share it?

Unknown said...

In 1974, I recall being in the Double Dolphin restaurant not as a customer but as an investigator for Labor Standards (then usually called "the Labor Board"), a state division that, until 1976, did routine checks every three years or so on whether businesses paid employees the minimum wage. I recall being in the Double Dolphin and talking with the owner. When I mentioned the paintings on the wall, he said that in exchange for free meals over a period of time, an artist had done the paintings. Pretty good, as I recall. He mentioned something about the sale of The Old Homestead restaurant, saying that the neighborhood had been in a decline. The last thing I remember is that he got a great deal on a long term lease for the Double Dolphin. Those were the days when some business's greatest asset was a long term unbreakable lease on a property that some developer later needed to erect a high rise building, after the New York City real estate economy recovered in 1978. I still wonder what happened to the Double Dolphin restaurant in the end, under its new ownership.

Marie-Luise Miyasato said...

I wondered what became of the Press Box on 45th St., opposite the former YWCA, where I first stayed in 1963 when I arrived in the United States and worked at 485 Lexington Avenue.

My bosses often invited my to the press box and some delicious dinner.

It was such a great place. However, times are achanging quickly, and now it is a Chinese restaurant.

Marie-Luise Miyasato, nee Dege