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Found 10 results

  1. Once, nobody really spoke about restaurants, at least not in the way they do now. Nobody debated the merits of each dish, no one cared what farm their steak came from, and restaurants were more about hospitality than cuisine. That time is long gone, but shards of it remain. One is a few short blocks from my front door, and I'm sure to go every chance I get. Some restaurants transport you to a different place. This one promises a different time. Martin Donohue opened Donohue's Steak House in 1950 on Lexington Avenue near 64th, where it still is today. His son Michael took over a few years later and ran it until his death in 2000. The restaurant then passed to Michael's daughter, Maureen Donohue-Peters, who still owns Donohue's and is there almost every night. None of them ever changed the place. Not one bit. Why would they? Donohue's is a single room paneled in brown wood with a checkerboard floor. The front is dominated by an Art Deco bar. Beyond it is the dining room, which has three small tables at its center and five tall black booths along each of the side walls. The back wall has a "specials" board which almost never changes, and probably never has. I can't attest to the authenticity of everything in the place. But I'd wager it all looks almost exactly as it has for nearly seven decades. The button-tufted booths are flanked with coat racks and a few age-tarnished paintings hang above. The tables are covered in red tablecloths with paper Donohue's mats at each seat. Instead of a rollup, the silverware is still laid out on each mat with a white cloth napkin folded between. Nearly all of the menu dates to the Eisenhower administration as well. Steaks are all familiar cuts like NY Strip or filet, with gentle prices that betray a lack of pedigree. The fish would have been equally familiar decades ago, when baked salmon or scrod were in fashion. Everything else -- hand carved turkey, baked chicken, shepherds pie -- is straight from grandma's house. I typically go for the burger, which is first rate in an "old school" kind of way and served with decent steak fries. I like the meatloaf and gravy too -- one of the permanent specials -- which, with sides of mashed potatoes and peas and carrots, reminds me in a good way of the Salisbury steak TV Dinners of my youth. I also always sit at the bar, over which Tom the affable bartender quietly presides most nights. Tom seems like he's been there 30 years, though I strangely haven't the courage to ask. Regardless, he's certainly not trying to reinvent the wheel. Aside from a handful of flavored vodkas, if you couldn't get it 60 years ago, you can't get it now. In this regard, a Maker's Manhattan is occasionally nice, but bottled Budweiser usually does the trick. After all, you're not here for fancy cocktails. Or amazing food, for that matter. It's good, but that's not really the point. What you're here for is the history and the perspective that comes with it. Donohue's is a living museum. Most patrons know the staff by name because they've been coming for 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years. One even left his two favorite servers a $100,000 tip in his will. The old guard mostly stay in the dining room where they seem to know everyone already. Still, a "newcomer" can usually find a few regulars at the bar to chat with. Often, whether you want to or not. Either way, there's always a good story to be told. There aren't many places like Donohue's left. Places from a time and a city that disappeared before most of us were born. I'm glad to have this small piece of it.
  2. Laundry is one of my favorite things to do. I don't really like washing clothes, though I don't mind. And a load is pretty expensive in Manhattan - my part of the island, anyway. But my laundromat happens to be next door to the reincarnation of the Subway Inn. Previously, the bar was right at an entrance for the 59th Street subway station on the Lexington Avenue line (the 4, 5, 6), hence the name. It was a regular date spot for Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. The years since were perhaps unkind to Subway Inn. By the time it closed, it was a straight-up dive. And not necessarily in a good way. Just a bar with a storied history that lived off of cheap drinks and the clientele that comes with it. Beloved by those that knew it, for sure. But far removed from its heyday. And then came the end. Not because of money, but instead, like so much of "old New York," at the hands of a developer. The whole block is scheduled for redevelopment, into something taller, grander, and in any event, not an ancient, dingy bar. And so it moved, much too far from the subway for the name to be even remotely appropriate. It's actually directly across the street from the Roosevelt Island tram, though I'm guessing "Tram Inn" was never seriously considered. It may again be next to the subway, but that would require the city to actually build the Second Avenue "T" line, which has been in the works for almost 100 years. So don't hold your breath. Anyway, the new bar is kind of like the old, minus the grime. But without that "patina," it lacked most of the personality of the original. And the new crowd is a lot different. It's kind of a "Star Wars bar" - everyone seems like a different kind of alien, and it isn't clear that most even speak the same language. But the owners did a lot right when they built the place. The beer selection is unremarkable, but good and varied enough to please just about anyone (my particular poison is Brooklyn Lager). And the menu is just Sysco bar food, but it's prepared well enough that you won't mind. I mostly go for the wings, which are sometimes undersized and always a bit spicier than you order them. And now that the Subway Inn has been in its current location for a year, a funny thing has happened. This nondescript bar with a disparate crowd has developed a community, of which I'm indirectly a part (the occasional "laundry guy," I suspect). And the bartenders - younger, but holdovers from the old location - are great. Most importantly, the place knows what it is, and does that well. Which brings me back to laundry. There's nothing better than throwing in a few loads and heading next door for a couple of pints. Returning to put everything in the dryer, then back for a few more beers and some wings. And all the while being surrounded by people of every race, creed, and age, not just coexisting, but enjoying each others company. Occasionally, you even make some friends. I love laundry day.
  3. Sadly, one of my favorite spots in the city closed on Wednesday. Le Train Bleu was the not-so-secret "secret" restaurant in Bloomingdale's. It was designed to look like an old rail dining car and was named for the famous train of the same name (not the restaurant in the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris). In a lot of ways, it was one of those restaurants that time apparently forgot -- the experience was probably the same a month ago as it was when it opened in 1979, and the same people likely still worked there. About half of the patrons were tourists, but the regular clientele -- now in their 70's and 80's -- were probably the same too. And the food was always good, though not spectacular. Still, it was just one of those places that you love to be. While it was only a block from my apartment, I didn't go often because it was seemingly never open (it closed at 5:00 every day). But it will nonetheless be greatly missed, and I'm glad I got one last lunch on its final day. It was as good as it ever was until the end. [Originally posted on NYDiningGuide.com]
  4. To date my favorite burger in NYC is Minetta Tavern's Black Label Burger, although the $28 price tag doesn't allow me to splurge too often. Last weekend while on the Upper East Side my girlfriend suggested we try J.G. Melon. It was around 2:30pm so we only had to wait five minutes. I won't go in to much detail about the history of the place, although it probably deserves a spot in the Oldest Establishments thread. The burger was a close second to Minetta. Nothing fancy about it; great char on the outside, a juicy medium rare on the inside, melted cheddar, a few pickles/onions, all for $11 (see pic below).
  5. I'd love to give you all a review of the art at the Guggenheim, but in the FAQ fine print they note that luggage is not checkable. So...if you have a few hours to kill in New York City after you arrive or before you leave, and you decide that a museum visit is in order, check their luggage policy (apparently most NYC museums are not luggage friendly). We found out the crappy way. For the record, we had no problems checking luggage at the Art Institute of Chicago last year and spent a lovely couple of hours there in between our hotel check out and our flight back to DC. It appears the National Gallery of Art allows limited luggage checking. Not that I often wander the streets of DC with luggage going to museums.
  6. If dark, loud mediocre cocktail bars filled with the not-so-bright and vaguely generic looking citizens of the Upper East Side is your thing, then by all means go to JBird. If it's not, then I just save you a cab ride to East 75th Street (between 1st and 2nd). The bowl of cilantro lime popcorn was pretty good ($7).
  7. If for some unknown reason you should find yourself wandering around the backwaters of the Upper East Side, like 85th between 1st and 2nd, then Ryan's Daughter is the kind of friendly little neighborhood pub that one should seek for a cool beverage. We were only there for one drink, the tap selection was limited, some contract inhouse beer and Brooklyn Lager. But if this place was in my neighborhood I wouldn't have any problem stopping for a pint or two. I have no idea how busy this place normally gets, but on a Friday night around 10:30pm the upstairs was quiet and a good spot to catch up with friends.
  8. May have an hour or two to kill waiting for a train, and I figure no neighborhood can be worse than that around Penn Station for dinner. Maybe a bar seat at a decent/intersting spot where I can hurry up or go slow as circumstances permit?
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