At some point in their lives, nearly every New Yorker makes his or her way to Sammy’s, a nightly bar mitzvah masquerading as a steak joint.
Set in a basement on the Lower East Side, its decor is gloriously tacky: business cards stuck all over the ceiling, balloons at the tables, and photos of patrons cramming the walls. Completing the ambience is an aged fellow at an electric keyboard who regales the crowd with Yiddish songs, selections from Fiddler on the Roof, and the hoariest Jewish jokes you’ve ever heard. Diners dance in the aisle, and sometimes members of the crowd take to the microphone to sing as well (especially if they’ve ordered the house special drink: a bottle of vodka encased in a block of ice).
The crusty, gruff waiters will try to push you into ordering too much food: Resist them. There’s no reason whatsoever to order the prix-fixe menu; and the steaks are a foot long and overhang the plate, so order one for every two people with just one side of fried potatoes. You have to start with a helping of the chopped liver, a heart attack in a bowl, which the waiter mixes tableside, combining the liver with fried onions, plain onions, and literally a cup and a half of schmaltz (for the uninitiated, that’s liquefied chicken fat). One order of the liver is enough for four people. Bring a group, as there are few better places in the city for a blowout party.
- Pauline Frommer