Located in a neighborhood that has changed all around it, Keen’s Steakhouse still displays the thousands of clay pipes that were once held for presidents, writers, and other world-famous celebrities.
When people think of Manhattan’s theatre district, Broadway and Times Square immediately spring to mind. But the city’s original theatre district was in the Tenderloin area which is now known as Herald Square. And since 1885, actors, audience members, and theatre impresarios would seek refreshment at Albert Keen’s chophouse. Legend has it that actors in full costume from the Garrick theatre next door would rush into Keen’s between acts for a quick ale and a bite of his famous mutton chops before running back on stage.
But what makes Keen’s quite so extraordinary is what hangs from the ceiling: the world’s largest collection of Church Warden pipes. Being made of clay and too fragile to carry around, smoking enthusiasts would keep their pipes at the tavern for their own private use when dropping in. And Keen’s has over 90,000 pipe smokers on its roster, amongst them such tobacco smoking luminaries as Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, Herbert Hoover, Albert Einstein, and Babe Ruth. Each pipe is numbered, and upon entering the Chophouse, you would hand your membership over to a page boy who would retrieve your pipe. City laws today have brought an end to this civilized past time, but the 90,000 pipes still adorn the ceilings of the dining rooms of Keen’s Chophouse. As you walk through the rabbit warren of rooms (the Lincoln Room, the Lambs Room, the Lillie Langtry Room) and end up at the wood paneled bar, over which hangs the seductive portrait of Miss Keen, the proprietor’s mistress, it is easy to imagine stepping back in time, to when this corner of New York was the heart of its theatrical community.
Today’s visitors can enjoy themselves in this hidden New York gem with Keen’s own pub ale and their famous mutton chops. “A mutton chop at Keens!” ran an old advert, “There’s a reminder to thrill a man who has been around! This pleasant old tavern is the perfect spot for a chop and a mug of ale!” As true today as it was over 120 years ago.