New York City's steakhouses are the gold standard, a rite of passage on the road to adulthood and business-world machismo. They're also serious money. Big bucks mean big expectations, so you don't want to be let down. A great steak should be crusty and tender, flavorful and pliant, and, at the very least, send juice down your chin. The creamed spinach and baked/fried/mashed potatoes should be just as sublime. The seven palaces we've highlighted here have the formula down, from first-rate service to amazing wine lists. Some of them are more than 100 years old and still going like gangbusters. The younger ones are happening, too, catering to a new generation and even offering a feminine touch here and there. Read on for all the mouthwatering details.
72 W. 36th St., 212-947-3636, Midtown West, Manhattan
Keens, established in 1885, has seen it all: Teddy Roosevelt, William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, J.P. Morgan and a raid during Prohibition. Its most touching memorabilia is a framed playbill touted as the one Abraham Lincoln was holding when he was shot. Most mind-boggling is the collection of more than 50,000 clay pipes stowed on the ceiling, evidently bequeathed by long-dead tobacco-loving customers. Here's what else you need to know about Keens: the terrific pub menu is roughly half the price of the big-boy restaurant menu of jumbo steaks and mutton chops. The pub-size mutton chop is smaller, sure, but it's plenty thick and not gamy at all (it's really lamb). Prime rib hash is another dish that goes hand in hand with a stiff drink. The barmen are super-knowledgeable and have a dazzling scotch and bourbon collection. Before 8pm, an after-work crowd dominates, but later on, it's all seasoned regulars.
Knickerbocker Bar & Grill
33 University Place, 212-228-8490, Greenwich Village, Manhattan
Since 1977, this Greenwich Village mainstay has been known for its 28-ounce T-bone and barbecued St. Louis ribs as much as for its swinging jazz. On Friday and Saturday nights, longtime patrons slide into leather booths to hear greats like Ron Carter and Bucky Pizzarelli jamming until 2am. The burnished, wood-detailed dining room offers a home-away-from-home ambience and is adorned with original Al Hirschfeld drawings. Rich caviar pie and the classic Caesar are musts for every table. Night after night, steak after steak, Knickerbocker's is comfortingly consistent. Sides are a bonus—dreamy mashed potatoes and creamed spinach that's not overly creamy.
Michael Jordan's The Steak House N.Y.C.
Grand Central Terminal, 23 Vanderbilt Ave., 212-655-2300, Midtown East, Manhattan
Michael Jordan's takes a team-oriented approach, with a professional lineup of hosts, bartenders, waiters and sommeliers working together to guide you through a seamless—and captivating—dining experience. This is one of the City's most magnificent perches for people-watching, overlooking Grand Central's beaux-arts concourse. The New York strip, bone-in rib eye and porterhouse for two are juicy inside and charred outside, just the way they should be. The wine list is another wonder to behold, stocked with uncommon wines from both Europe and California.
Peter Luger Steak House
178 Broadway, 718-387-7400, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
It's all about the porterhouse for two (or three or four) here. The dry-aged, well-marbled steak is chapter-and-verse impeccable and the reason Peter Luger has been legendary since 1887. Of course, the steak house does other things well, too. Start with sizzling, thick-cut bacon and order sides of creamed spinach and excellent french-fried potatoes. If you haven't been here before, its well-lit German-tavern atmosphere may come as a surprise. Not surprising is brusque service (until the employees get to know you, that is). Local politicians and generations of families have long been welcomed into the fold. At lunch, the superb, half-pound burger is a (relatively) budget-conscious $14.95.
57 W. 58th St., 212-371-7777, Midtown West, Manhattan
Past the charcuterie bar is a shimmering subterranean dining room packed with a dressy crowd that's a generation younger than those found at the City's other venerable meat palaces. Consequently, global house music sets the tone and "How we doing over here, guys?" is heard more often than "sir" or "madam." The splendidly cooked aged rib steak is ace. For appetizers and sides, the menu is innovative, with custard-like corn crème brûlée and Yorkshire pudding brimming with creamed spinach. British visitors nostalgic for home will also find bubble and squeak.
Sparks Steak House
210 E. 46th St., 212-687-4855, Midtown East, Manhattan
Please get to know Sparks for its full-flavored, crusty shell steak instead of recalling it as that place where the mobsters got whacked (for the record, it was Paul Castellano and his underboss, Tommy Bilotti, in 1985, ordered by John Gotti). The crowd today looks respectable, women with smooth, blond, country-club hair and men with glinting cuff links and just a touch of hair gel. A maître d' in a tux offers a warm greeting ("Looking sharp, sir!"), even hugs ("Hey, kid, how ya doin?"), and conducts customers through the sprawling, decorous space lined with gilt-framed landscape paintings. The scent of sizzling steak pervades the air, making it hard to resist, and there's also worthy shrimp cocktail and extra-thick lamb chops. Top-notch hash browns and baked potatoes hit the spot, and the staggering wine list has more deals than you'd expect.
13 E. 12th St., 212-328-0000, Union Square, Manhattan
Strip House is bordello red, its walls chockablock with risqué burlesque-era photos and headshots of bygone actors and opera stars. The photos belonged to the space's previous inhabitant, Asti, which lasted for 75 years. After more than a decade, the Strip House seems destined for a long run itself, if only for three little words: goose-fat potatoes. Don't stop there, though. Stay for the marbled rib eye, salt-and-pepper crusted New York strip, black truffle creamed spinach and thick-cut roasted bacon with arugula salad. Make sure to pluck the fluffy onion roll from the bread basket and apply lots of good butter. The acoustics are another plus—the ability to talk without shouting while a nostalgic mix of Jimmy Durante, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald plays in the background.