I’m going to sound like I’m almost advertising the restaurant here, but I promise no one paid me anything!! We just love our traditional festive visit to Keens (though we’re more than happy to go twice next year, as we plan to possibly go with family & friends from Europe in Spring 2021, covid permitting).
Keen’s is a special restaurant. It’s in Herald Square, Manhattan and not too far from Macy’s and Penn Station.
We’re a big fan of ‘mom and pop’ restaurants, shops and business. We watched all of the Jamie McDonald series, ‘New York Originals’, in which he celebrates historic, independent, family-run businesses in the five boroughs of the city. McDonald featured Keens in one episode, as did Anthony Bourdain on one of his shows. When Marie had a big birthday coming up a few years ago, I was inspired to go to Keens to buy a gift voucher for her. Even as I sat in the waiting area at the front for the voucher, I was excited.
Because it’s expensive, a ‘blow out’, we only go once a year before Christmas. Our tradition is to have a drink or two at The Ginger Man pub on 36th and Fifth Avenue first, then move on to Keens for an evening reservation. I always have the spectacular mutton chop and Marie a delicious fillet mignon.
Is the food that amazing that it eclipses other fine dining (or non- fine dining) restaurants? The food is very, very good at Keens but no. That’s not the point. The history, the ambience of each themed room, the level of detail, service and quirkiness make it unique and worth every penny of an occasional visit. It’s from 1885. For a long time it was very much a male dominated world here, and I think it was Lilly Langtry – or was it Mae West – who inevitably and thankfully broke down those barriers. But an endearing and fascinating detail remains: the gentleman would “call for his pipe” after dining, and the pipes were (and still are, largely for decoration now) hung from the ceiling and catalogue numbered. They have many famous pipes there, like that which belonged to Teddy Roosevelt and modern day celebrities like Tom Hanks. And each room is rich and choc-full with an age-old nostalgia. We ate at the Bull Moose Room last time. And you see where the care and attention goes in making the experience so memorable, as every mirror, brass fitting and knife and fork gleam. We feel special when we dine there, and that feeling stays with you after you’ve left. It’s a good excuse for Marie to glam up, and for me to bring out my waistcoat and pocket watch.
You can spend a lot less at the fine looking bar too, and I’m sure still have an amazing time.
I also bought Marie a Fountain Pen Hospital gift voucher too for that birthday. The FPH in Lower Manhattan is another amazing place. The hospital moniker stuck but they don’t (or at least don’t primarily?) repair pens anymore; it’s a shop that sells pens of all sorts but especially fountain pens. If you think you’re done with fountain pens forever, well you might be, but it’s easy to fall in love with such a classic thing when you’re there browsing. Marie bought a kaweko. We use ours to write all of our Christmas cards every year, with emerald green ink!