Friday, November 7, 2008

The timeless appeal of Donohue's Steak House



Donohue's Steak House, 845 Lexington Ave. near 64th Street, opened in 1950. Except for the newish flat-screen TV in the bar area and the prices on the menu, I don't think much has changed here in the last 58 years. Let's just say I love this place. There's a long, rectangular bar then a dining room with 10 black vinyl booths. The walls are adorned with nautical art. A phone booth is still in operation in the back right corner. It rings a lot. No one really wants to answer it. The daily specials are written on chalkboards, one in the front window and one on the back wall. There's wood paneling. Black tile floors. Ceiling fans. (And extra-large urinals in the men's room.)

I prefer sitting near the front window, watching people rush by on Lexington. Especially on rainy days. When I'm glad I'm not out in it with everyone else. Now if Frank would only keep the volume down on the TV while behind the bar. He watches the dreadful local news (Not NY1, mind you). It can ruin the mood.




If I have the history right, it goes something like this: Martin Donahue opened the restaurant in 1950. It was then run by his son, Michael, and his granddaughter Maureen. Michael died in March 2000 at age 70. Maureen is still running the place. Oh, and you can likely thank Michael Donohue for the modern era of brunch in the city. According to an item in the Daily News upon Michael's death: "His personal appeal to former Governor Malcolm Wilson helped pass legislation allowing bars to open at noon on the Sabbath." I would have looked into this claim a little more carefully, but I hate brunch. Not to mention some of the people who go to brunch, especially the ones who stand and wait on the sidewalks. Though I do like drinking. And on Sunday mornings.

Joe was my favorite. He was a dapper Irishman who seemed to take great pride in his appearance. Every one of his thick gray hairs was in perfect order. He wore a tie and neatly pressed shirt with cuff links. He tended to tell the same anecdotes during each visit, but they were entertaining. Haven't seen Joe for -- what now -- four or five years? I can't remember. He retired to take care of his ailing wife. Funny to think that he retired. Joe must have been 75 to 80.



There have been a few times when I'm the youngest person in Donohue's by, oh, some 40-plus years. Depending on how much I've had to drink, this can depress me. Particularly during the holidays. I look at the table of four women in their 80s. Their husbands or partners must be dead. The women are in no hurry. Must be difficult to turn the tables over quickly during a dinner rush. I also see the old married couples. Sometimes they talk to each other. Mostly they just stare into the vacant space in the booth. They live in the neighborhood. They're dressed up. This may just be their big outing for the day.
Then I get really hokey and wonder if Mrs. Grieve and I may be sitting there 40 years from now. I sure hope so.

8 comments:

Jeremiah Moss said...

gorgeous and evocative. i can't wait to try the place. also nice to see more about the man behind the grieve.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Never went in Donahue's because I didn't know much about it. Thanks for the insight. I'll have to pay a visit.

Anonymous said...

please dont ruin this place. its my secret. if it fills itself with upper east side hipster wannabees i'm going to have to shoot myself

David Freeland said...

A wonderfully detailed account. It makes me excited that a place like this is still around!

Kirby Carnegie said...

A most excellent post! I used to go there for lunch and after work when I worked nearby... I always wondered about its history. It's the coziest and most real place in that neighborhood and people just pass it by - which is fine. There's always room to hang. I love this place.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting pictures of the place. I just noticed this restaurant while on the Lexington Ave. bus. It immediately reminded me of the places Rock Hudson & Doris Day went to in their movies.
I agree with Anonymous' comment that hopefully the hipsters won't find out about it. Of course, I will have to check this place out! But I won't tell.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I beg to differ. There are far better old school steakhouses, and I prefer my steak without rodent droppings -- been in there twice and mice are running all over the place. And the bartender there is quite a d**chebag -- maybe I'd put up with that kind of surliness if the food was great, but it is mediocre at best.

Marty Wombacher said...

@Anonymous 8:14PM: I have a feeling you're a Tad's person. Or maybe Sizzler?