Sunday, July 15, 2012

KEEN'S STEAK HOUSE: Pipe Dreams on 36th Street(c) By Polly Guerin

Keen’s English Chop House is a pipe dream story with a storied history that dates back to Merrie Old England where travelers kept their clay pipe at their favorite inn.  Keen's pipe tradition began in 1885, when Albert Keen opened his restaurant and saloon, now known as Keens Steakhouse and it is still operating full steam ahead as a historic destination dining spot. It’s a ‘man’ thing but ladies also dine there, too,  and  smoke their pipe. Aside from serving up man’s size meals Keen’s unique attraction is its ceiling collection of post-dinner pipes emblazoned with the handwritten number assigned to each owner and kept on the premises. As of the last count Keen's owns the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world with over 90,000 pipes installed aloft for safe keeping, because the clay pipes are too fragile to travel. (Image: Note the massive array of clay pipes on the ceiling)
CELEBRITY SMOKERS So, whose pipes are up there anyway? Famous and regular New Yorkers, people like you and me. The membership rooster of the  Pipe Club contains over ninety thousand names, including Teddy Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Grace Moore, Albert Einstein, J. P. Morgan, Stanford White, "Buffalo Bill" Cody.Think celebrities, too numerous to mention here, but I can imagine there are many more ghosts of New York City’s glory days lingering in the rafters.One ironic piece of information: Just the day before Mayor Michael Bloomberg enacted a citywide smoking ban in 2003, he was presented with an honorary pipe during a dinner at Keens, but he did not smoke it. His signed stem remains an artifact at the restaurant.
THE CHURCHWARDEN PIPES The Churchwarden pipes, yes, that’s what they are called, are roughly 15 inches long. Legend has it that the “church” moniker comes from the old chapel officers, who created a stem long enough to reach out past the stained-glass windows so that they might smoke during Mass. Most current models are made in Holland by the Royal Delta Company. It’s a throwback to a bygone era but new members may still receive their pipes and cards bearing the identifying digits and join this exclusive club. The life of a pipe has its calling. When a member dies, it’s Keen’s custom that friends and family ceremoniously break the stem of his or her churchwarden, so that it can never be smoked again.
GARMENT DISTRICT MUSEUM This garment industry museum boasts an extensive collection of Lincoln, Roosevelt and theater memorabilia arrayed in profusion of old photographs, newspaper clippings and other odd ephemera that cover the restaurant’s six expansive dining rooms. If you are a history sleuth check out the Lincoln Room which features the Ford’s Theater playbill that President Lincoln held right before he died at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. This is a surprisingly ‘seldom talked about’ restaurant find, and it is located just a few doors from Macy’s Department Store.
During the workweek the restaurant seems to be always crowded, and that’s a good thing, but lunch on the weekend, when the crowd has thinned out, you can enjoy stepping back into another era under a canopy of pipe dreams. Keens Steakhouse, 72 W. 36th St. (Between 5th & 6th Aves.) 212.947.3636.

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About Me

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Polly Guerin is an author/poet with four textbooks and 2 video productions as credentials as well as 4 books ready to be published. All my blogs are intended to become the basis for books to be published. PollyTalk From New York (c) is a current events blog about happenings in New York City. I have been PollyTalk columnist on the Internet, Big Apple News Network. AmazingArtDecoDivas blog features amazing women of notable character. I am on the board of the Art Deco Society of New York. The Fashion Historian blog gives pertinent insight into Polly's consummate knowledge about fashion history. Former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Awaken Your Sleeping Beauty blog gives you pertinent information about holistic remedies for health, beauty, mind, body and spirit. I am on the board of the Edgar Cayce New York Center. I sing with the St. George's Choral Society and also serve on their Board. My little dog Colby is a rescue dog and I support animal charities. I hope you enjoy my blogs, please keep in touch.