Keen's is the sort of place that the other steakhouses are trying to be. But you just cannot fake the atmosphere that 150-plus years of operation can provide, nor franchise the kind of eccentricity that Keen's preserves. The dark-wood interior is animated by tens of thousands of old clay pipes, the kind you imagine Rip van Winkle smoking, most of them hanging from hooks in the ceiling. The restaurant began as a private club (Lamb's) and members kept their personal smoking equipment on hand for an after-dinner smoke in this once exclusively masculine preserve. It was a Republican hangout from the days of Lincoln, and the huge collection of clippings and portraits on the walls attest to this. The ceilings are still visibly darkened by the smoke of days gone by, although in these modern times smokers are exiled to the sidewalk and wreath the doorway with a cloud of cigar smoke. Pipes belonging to Keen's most famous guests (Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, just to name some of the the presidents) are showcased in the lobby. A boisterous bar occupies a good chunk of the ground level, full of distinctive Manhattan bonhomie. Several dining rooms occupy various floors of the building. Some reviewers have complained about noise, but we found the top-floor Lily Langtree room quite calm. The menu is traditional steakhouse with lots of raw-bar offerings and a nod to chicken and fish; notwithstanding a vegetarian entree special, this is a carnivore's lair and there's simply no point in eating here if you wish to eat lightly. The much-ballyhooed "Legendary Mutton Chop" is not overrated: it's a vast cut of slightly more mature lamb garnished with strips of its own crispy fat, much like bacon. Portions are quite simply huge, and the menu honors the ancient ways of the steakhouse, including the massive wedge of iceberg lettuce dripping with blue cheese dressing. Keen's is much patronized by men and simply will have no appeal to a client who cherishes delicacy; I do not see it as a date-night place at all unless your gal is very comfortable in a man's world. Expect to spend at least $75 per person exclusive of alcohol: this is not a bargain, nor is it overpriced. Attentive and professional service, although not quite up to what one might expect at a more foodie-oriented place in the same price range. (The bathrooms are also unaccountably grim and offer only the loathsome blow drier for one's hands.) Keen's may not be for the elegant, but it does offer an unforgettable experience and a very strong sense of a time and place in New York's history.
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