Gallagher’s Steak House in New York

If you want to be able to tell your friends that you sampled a real slice of New York history, you could do worse than have a pre-theater meal at Gallagher’s Steak House on 52nd Street.

This expansive eatery began life in 1927 as a Theater District speakeasy. (How on earth did they disguise the joint?) Today it is a lightly faded doyenne of New York’s restaurant scene trading on a reputation that may or may not have been deserved once upon a time and justifying its high prices with a patina of history.

Appropriately enough, Gallagher’s has a theatrical heritage, having been founded by former Ziegfeld Girl Helen Gallagher, the wife of Edward Gallagher, half of the famed vaudeville team of Gallagher and Shean. In 1964, the place was taken over by professional restaurateur Jerome Brody (the Rainbow Room, Four Seasons).

Gallagher’s prides itself on its “meat aging room,” added by Brody, where USDA prime steaks are dry-aged for 21 days before being served. In fact, they put it on display, behind glass walls, in the entrance to the restaurant.

More recently, porterhouse steaks disappeared from the aging room and the menu. (The “signature” is now the New York Strip sirloin.) In short, despite the black and white photos of now-forgotten Gotham celebs and the colorful mural of more recognizable “names” like Joe DiMaggio and Jack Kennedy, Gallagher’s is a shadow of it’s former self.

Still, it is a colorful and lively watering hole and eatery that trades shamelessly on its claim to be Broadway’s original steak house and it draws an enthusiastic international clientele.

A recent pre-theater dinner illustrated why Gallagher’s is now better appreciated for its ambiance than its cuisine. The red checked tablecloths have a certain old time charm and the atmosphere is just as boisterous as you might imagine it having been in its heyday. The immigrant waiters of a bygone era have been replaced by the immigrant waiters of today although the menu is as reassuringly short and to the point as a good steak house’s menu should be.

The lobster bisque makes up in flavor what it lacks in subtlety and the mixed green salad boasts a suitably assertive mustardy dressing.

Steaks (and why bother with anything else here?) range from $38 to $45. We opted for the 14-ounce sirloin steaks ($40), which despite 21 days of dry aging were undistinguished, although cooked precisely to order.

Sides ($8 to $12) range from various incarnations of potatoes to broccoli, mushrooms, creamed spinach, and jumbo asparagus – in short, the standard steak house array. The ones we sampled were well prepared in the most unimaginative way possible. These are large portions and a single side will easily serve two.

There is a serviceable wine list, with prices ranging from about $40 to $160 or so. The $69 Rioja we ordered proved to be the most satisfying part of the meal. We skipped dessert.

A meal at Gallagher’s will, I suspect, be appreciated in direct proportion to how well you can tolerate dropping $100 per person on a less than satisfying meal amid pleasantly evocative surroundings.

Gallagher’s Steak House
228 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 245-5336
www.gallaghersnysteakhouse.com