The awning outside the front of Keens. The clay churchpipes have become so fundamental to the restaurant it is now part of the logo. This is the only view of the property from the street. Darkened windows maintain the privacy inside the building.

Keens Steakhouse

.
The 6th Avenue Association (Part of the Avenue of the Americas Association) January Luncheon.

The history of Keens Steakhouse goes a lot further than just plates on tables, the enrichment of its past primarily comes from its location. Herald Square is an area of New York that has been steeped with cultural significance. With the iconic Macy’s store situated in the square, along with numerous Broadway theaters nearby, the affluent and wealthy of the city used this area frequently[1]. In modern day times the restaurant is tucked away in the center of the Theater District; a small, unassuming fabric awning juts out of a darkened glass building, inside lies a restaurant steeped in cultural and political history.

[1] White, N. and Willensky, E. (1978) AIA guide to New York City.

The Lambs Club
Keens Steakhouse appears now as a high-end restaurant serving some of the finest steaks in America to the affluent in the city, but its history lies in its background as a staple of the theatre district it lies in. The Lambs Club was, and still is, one of the most respected theatrical societies in the world. New York was an essential destination for the group and when Albert Keen, a theatre producer and member, opened a chophouse three blocks down from the Lambs Club’s building[1] it was immediately given a platform to be enriched in history. The society was formed originally in London, composed of actors, writers and scientists among a rich group of brilliant minds[2]. The chophouse became a haven for actors in the public eye, many of whom were either members or associates of the Lambs. There are tales of actors sneaking out of the back of the Winter Garden Theatre to have a quick drink between shows!

[1] Fitzpatrick, K (2020) The Lambs, Inc. retrieved from https://the-lambs.org/history/

[2] D. W. Dunlap, On Broadway (1990); F. Leadon, Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles (2018).

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American five-star general and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines Campaign.
Librado Romero. ‘Joining the Elite.’ Pipes belonging to the famous are among those at Keens. Credit.The New York Times

Largest Collection in the World.
The most unique and priceless asset to Keens lies in their collection of clay smoking pipes, better known as church pipes. Originally members of societies who hosted luncheons at the steakhouse were able to keep their pipes on property for the sum of approximately $5[1]; as Keens grew, its collection of pipes did too. Standing at now over 90,000 it is now the largest collection of clay smoking pipes in the world, with some of the most influential people in history on the list. The steakhouse is small, with low ceilings and ‘dining room feel’, with some of the finest steaks in the city being cooked in the kitchens the restaurant breathes exemplary service and fine dining[2]. As Keens became one of the most popular and trendy places to eat for the upper classes of New York through the early 20th Century it developed its most unique and valuable asset – the largest collection of clay smoking pipes in the world. Albert Einstein is possibly the most notable of the long list of A-List celebrities who would ponder over things in the steakhouse – with his pipe of course![3]

[1] Schulz, B – ‘A Pipe Dream Comes to Life’ – New York Times  (March 12, 2012)

[2] Sietsema R. ‘Another Look at Keens Steakhouse, Formerly Keens Chophouse’ – The Village Voice (November 10, 2010)

[3] Rothstein, M. The Sopranos | 20th Anniversary, March/April 2019

Timeless.
When stood outside the restaurant it is difficult to envision how different major events and economic cycles would influence the businesses life expectancy. Having its foundations laid in exclusivity and wealth Keens found its niche in the upper middle class of New York City. Operating as the meeting place of many societies, clubs and other key public figures who all chase the same thing when in any huge city – privacy. Couple this with the perpetual development of the theater industry Keens became an instrumental part of the theater district and allowed for white-collar business to survive during the toughest of times[1]. The snowball effect of the relationship of theater and New York in turn produces some of the finest theaters, schools and production companies in the world. The longevity of Keens in New York City suggests another important factor – the amount of cultural and ethnic diversity in such a densely populated area. The culmination of all these surmises to demand for high end restaurants, located close to the Theater District, with a desirable amount of privacy – Keens Steakhouse.

[1] White, Timothy R. ““Sing for Your Supper”: Theater-Related Craft Work in Radio, Film, and Television.” In Blue-Collar Broadway: The Craft and Industry of American Theater, 64-99. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Accessed April 27, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh46w.6.

Privacy is Premium
With the convenient location of the restaurant lying as a fairly central location between the northern Manhattan neighborhoods that were, on average, far more affluent than the southern area of the peninsula. With the Theater District as a certain insurance premium on the restaurants foot traffic and sustainability its exclusivity came at a price of membership. Traditional Clay Pipe smoking was a male dominated consumer base, and with Keens functioning as the epicenter of piped tobacco in the city the male dominated chophouse remained this way for twenty years. Inside the restaurant there is a small corner of the room that is dedicated to the woman who changed all that.

This plaque hangs in Keens, just next to the doorway to the Langtry Room.
Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “SUPPER TO MRS. LANGTRY [held by] ALBERT R. KEEN [at] “KEEN’S (FORMERLY LAMBS’ CLUB HOUSE), (?NEW YORK, NY)” (REST;)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed April 27, 2020. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-8033-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

If there was to be one woman who would change the rules at Keens it seemed fitting that an actress was in fact the one to take legal action against the steakhouse for its lack of admittance to women. Keens unfortunate exclusivity and single sex nature stems from an era in which growing pressure on women came from the intense immigration, urbanization and modernization of the city at the time. [1] Despite this, Lillie Langtry; an actress, was refused entry to the steakhouse and formally complained. After a short time the owner of the restaurant, Albert Keen, addressed the issue directly and after an open conversation with Langtry – the policy was changed.

[1] Tiefer, Leonore. “Under the Double Standard.” The Women’s Review of Books 13, no. 1 (1995): 22. Accessed April 27, 2020. doi:10.2307/4022216.

 

Bibliography

 

White, N. and Willensky, E. (June 2010) AIA guide to New York City. Fifth Edition

Fitzpatrick, K (2020) The Lambs, Inc. retrieved from https://the-lambs.org/history/

W. Dunlap, On Broadway (1990); F. Leadon, Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles (2018). 88.

White, Timothy R. ““Sing for Your Supper”: Theater-Related Craft Work in Radio, Film, and Television.” In Blue-Collar Broadway: The Craft and Industry of American Theater, 64-99. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Accessed April 27, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh46w.6.

  Schulz, B (2012) A Pipe Dream Comes to Life – New York Times Accessed April 22 https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/nyregion/pipe-from-keens-steakhouse-is-claimed-and-smoked-decades-after-storage.html

  Sietsema R. (November 10, 2010) Another Look at Keens Steakhouse, Formerly Keens Chophouse Accessed April 20th https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/11/10/another-look-at-keens-steakhouse-formerly-keens-chophouse/

  Rothstein, M. The Sopranos | 20th Anniversary, March/April 2019

  Tiefer, Leonore. “Under the Double Standard.” The Women’s Review of Books 13, no. 1 (1995): 22. Accessed April 27, 2020. doi:10.2307/4022216.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *