There are more good steak houses in one small area of New York, specifically between Lexington and Second Aves. in the East 40’s, than you’ll find in the average city of a half million population. There are so many steak houses in that neighborhood, in fact, that East 45th St., within those boundary lines, has become known as Steak Row.
It all started back in 1923, when CHRIST CELLA, a former plasterer, opened a tiny basement kitchen in an apartment house and gave it his name. A fellow immigrant from Parma, Italy, Colombo Pecci, followed suit by converting a Chinese laundry and shoe store into the present COLOMBO’S steak house. Next in line was John Ganzi, who opened THE PALM on the site of a former funeral parlor. Pietro Donnini then established himself in an upstairs room on the northeast corner of 45th St. and Third Ave. as PIETRO’S. SCRIBE’S was opened by Louis Agazzi, another immigrant from Italy, further up the street.
These men, along with Joseph Resteghini, John C. (PEN & PENCIL) Bruno, Dalmo Pozzi, Lino Conti, and Pio Bossi are the pioneers of Steak Row. Resteghini opened JOE & ROSE’s in 1915 as a delicatessen with a tiny back room which became a restaurant. Resteghini’s son, Fred, present owner of JOE & ROSE’s, recalls that when Prohibition came in, JOE & ROSE’s became a speakeasy, serving regular customers and all the other restaurateurs who patronized the place in their off hours. After repeal it reverted back to a legitimate Italian restaurant.
Charles Stradella owned a liquor store on Ninth Ave. which he sold in order to buy a small restaurant, in 1938, for his son, Danny. He took over a beer joint at 203 E. 45th St. and with the aid of his son-in-law, Dalmo Pozzi, created the original PEN & PENCIL, then known as Charley’s Rail.
In 1939 John C. Bruno left the Hotel Lincoln’s Blue Room to become headwaiter at the PEN & PENCIL (his wife was Frances Stradella, Danny’s sister). With him, Bruno brought along Henry Castello. In the years that followed, Bruno’s PEN & PENCIL was to become the spawning spot for three rival steak houses on Steak Row: The PRESSBOX, the EDITORIAL, and DANNY’S HIDEAWAY. They were founded by PEN & PENCIL employees who had been trained by John Bruno.
Danny’s Hideaway (& His Inferno), at 151 E. 45th St., started as a one-room bistro seating six, with Mamma Rosa doing the cooking and Danny acting as his own waiter and barkeep. Within the next dozen years the operation was to expand to take in three four-story buildings, with 11 dining rooms seating 300, two separate kitchens and two completely stocked bars on different levels.
Outside, a 60-ft. awning proclaims it the home of DANNY’S HIDEAWAY and His Inferno; His Music Room; His Menu Room; His Key Room; His Nook. Celebrity parties have become his specialty and everything has been celebrated there from the signing of a new TV contract to the taking of a bride.
One of the youngest restaurateurs on Steak Row, and certainly the smallesthe weighs 130 pounds, stands 5 ft. 2 inches on tiptoeDante Charles Stradella, as he was christened (Stradella means “little street”), is also probably the most photographed. The walls of his restaurant are adorned with some 2,000 photographs of celebrities of stage, screen, TV, radio, sports, advertising, magazines and newspapers, and in at least 90 per cent of these pictures Danny appears as a host.
DANNY’S HIDEAWAY still is largely a family affair. Mamma Stradella died several years ago but sister Dora’s husband, Pete Berutti, is Danny’s maitre d’hotel; sister Josephine’s husband, Dalmo Pozzi, is treasurer and general manager; and Frank Longo, the office manager, is a cousin.
The secret of Danny’s success, aside from good food, is his gentleness of manner and his quiet charm. He is a hard-working host who doesn’t find it beneath his dignity to clear a table or pinch hit in the kitchen during rush hours. His own explanation is simpler. He merely says, “I like people.”
Danny’s success spurred Henry Castello and Harry Storm, both PEN & PENCIL bartenders, to team up with former VOISIN waitercaptain Fred O. Manfredi and open the PRESSBOX. ChaLles Fallini and Lino Conti, onetime chefs at PEN & PENCIL got the same notion and they, too, teamed to open the EDITORIAL, next door to Danny’s.
Bruno’s Pen & Pencil expanded from 203 E. 45th St. to a larger location at 205, on the premises of a former soda fountain. John redecorated the new place to include watercolor paintings by Milton Marx of famous writers, from Lord Byron down, and at least two great newspaper publishersJoseph Medill Patterson and William Randolph Hearst.
(It was, incidentally, the pre-World War II patronage of newspapermen and magazine employees in the neighborhood which inspired the local restaurants to take such names as PEN & PENCIL, EDITORIAL, PRESSBOX, FOURTH ESTATE, LATE EDITION and FRONT PAGE. In those days a steak dinner could be had for $1.75. Today, the same platter costs nearer $7.00.)
John C. BLuno, tall, still slim and handsome, is an opera fan (owns a box at the Metropolitan every sea-son) and indulges in an expensive sidelinehorse racing; but can still take time out to tell you how to cook a steak. Several seasons ago, to introduce his restaurant to a newer set of patrons, he employed publicist Michael Sean O’Shea to stage semi-annual champagneand-steak supper parties for celebrities of the stage and screen. At one memorable affair that went from mid-night to dawn the guests included Ethel Merman, Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Shirley Booth and Ginger Rogers.
Around the corner from Steak Row is THE PALM on Second Ave., originally a newspaperman’s hangout (its walls are decorated with cartoons) but now too expensive for most newspapermen unless they have expense accounts.
Across the street from THE PALM at 834 Second Ave. is MIKE MANUCHE’S and that was formerly CAMILLO’S. (CAMILLO’s is now at 160 E. 48th St.) Mike is a former Air Force pilot who took up the restaurant business more or less by accident after the war and made a success of it. He is, incidentally, the husband of Martha Wright, the TV star who succeeded Mary Martin as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific on Broadway and played the role for three successive seasons.
The Assembly, at 207 E. 43rd St., is another steak house, and a good one, under the management of a young man with the picturesque name of Ronnie Drinkhouse, who learned the business from his father. The ASSEMBLY is a favorite lunching place for United Nations personnel.
But there are 42 prime steak houses in New York and not all confined to Steak Row. One of the very best which has become a favorite with theatrical people, is a small one on 46th St., west of Eighth Ave., going by the not very original name of BROADWAY JOE’S. The Joe of the title is Joe Moirano, a restaurateur to his finger tips.
Steak seems to be the great common denominator of food in America and anyone who has done much traveling knows that New York gets the best quality steaks. In the cities of the Far West, the “New York cut” is what most people ask for.
Manny Wolf’s Chop House, at 201 E. 49th St., is another steak house that has its own devoted following, although Manny is no longer there to greet his customers in his own bluff, friendly way, nor is his successor, Sam Salvin, an even more famous restaurateur. Both have passed on and the place is now owned by Arthur Schleifer and Julius H. Berman, with Eddie Witmer as host. If you have a passion for Caesar salad with your sirloin or roast beef, you can’t do any better than MANNY WOLF’S.
Three other noted steak houses on the East Side are:
Chandler’s, at 49 E. 49th St., owned by Lou Rubin, with Jack Browne acting as host. Before it moved to its present location, CHANDLER’S for several years featured in addition to steaks, roasts and Maine lobsters, a nitely radio program conducted by the highly controversial Barry Gray, who has now moved his lares and penates elsewhere.
The Black Angus, at 148 E. 50th St., has been at that location 18 years, and as the name suggests, specializes in Black Angus steaks. One of the larger spots, seating approximately 314.
McCarthy’s, 839 Second Ave. at 45th St., specializes, in addition to the usual steak, boiled beef au jus which, I am told, is one of the best remedies for hangovers. It is presided over by Joe Berger.
Stampler’s Filet Mignon, at 208 Central Park South for the past t0 years, has a new feature: an upperlevel Rendezvous Room which offers a picturesque panorama of Central Park.
Al Cooper’s Herald Square, at 130 W. 36th St., is smack in the heart of the garment district and whereas clubs and restaurants on the upper East Side cater to the celebrities of stage and screen, Al Cooper can boast of the patronage of the late Christian Dior, Helen Lee, Ann Fogarty, Oleg Cassini and other celebrities of the fashion world whose professional activities take them to the neighborhood.
Al Cooper’s family did the reverse by letting him be born in Stanhope, N.J., and then, six months later, whisking him back to their native Poland. Al’s father was a food contractor supplying beef to the Polish Army. Al spent his early years touring Europe with his dad, who purchased thousands of head of cattle. He says he learned the beef business from the hoof up.
Al Schacht’s, 102 E. 52nd St., is owned and operated by Al Schacht, the “Clown Prince of Baseball,” who is usually on hand to play host. Caters to the sporting cLowd and to stage and screen celebrities.
The Headquarters, i08 W. 49th St., has a particular appeal for ex-service men for the reason that a former U.S. Army sergeant, Johnny Schwarz, operates it in partnership with another former military man, Charles Fodor, ex-captain in the Hungarian Army. It was opened about 12 years ago, shortly after the end of World War II. Murals depicting historical scenes include a blowup of a photograph of Gen. Eisenhower dining there.
During the war, Schwarz became head service man for Ike, then General of the Army, and he planned the menu for the Potsdam Conference attended by Truman, Stalin and Churchill. He has done catering also for Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. Princess Martha of 110
Norway, King Peter of Yugoslavia and ex-President Hoover.
The HEADQUARTERS recently expanded and added the Yankee Doodle Room.
The Envoy, at 375 Lexington Avenue (in the huge new Socony building) is a new, smart and welcome addition to “Steak Row,” although slightly off the beaten path. Its operator is Jerry Ossip, who got his restaurant experience at his father’s place, Churchill’s, 139 Broadway (not to be confused with the famous pre-Prohibition cafe of that name). During World War II Jerry acted as official precision photographer for all our A-bomb operations.
Hutton’s, 490 Lexington Ave. (Grand Central area), is another fine steak house, popular with advertising executives.
The Charcoal Room, 846 Second Ave., at 95th St., formerly known as Johnny Johnston’s Charcoal Room offers the novelty of permitting you to broil your own sirloin in an open pit which sits in the middle of the restaurant.
The Steak Joint, at 58 Greenwich Ave., another good steak house also off the beaten path. It owes its title to a remark by the late Damon Runyon, who suggested that Dan Stampler turn his none-too-successful tea-room into a “joint” specializing in steak. The STEAK JOINT is celebrated for its giant-sized cocktails.
Stampler’s place is the first restaurant in New YoLk City to install radar cooking, which literally takes fractions of minutes to cook a full dinner. Steaks are still broiled the old-fashioned way, though.