Porterhouse for the holidays
RESTAURANTS • First Person
Every December, a group of seven friends from college gather for a holiday lunch at Lure. For an annual affair of this sort, the meal must be all about ritual: It’s lunch, but cocktail orders are placed immediately. Then, the Grand seafood tower, to be devoured before the rest of the order (sushi, burgers, chicken lollipops) goes in. Finally, ice cream sandwiches, on the house.
The pace of celebratory holiday meals is a vital part of the ritual. Catching up with old friends deserves an essentially infinite block of time; failing that, a minimum three hour calendar hold, please.
This was the fifth year in a row for this particular holiday tradition. Last Wednesday, another group of old friends gathered for dinner at Peter Luger Steak House for a holiday meal we three first enjoyed together in 2006 and then for 16 years since. (Both traditions took 2020 off.)
There’s no better restaurant for ritual in New York City, and perhaps the world, than Peter Luger. This year, as every year, we arrived a half-hour before our reservation to allow for a drink at the long bar that also serves as the waiting area for tables. It’s a great scene, with a surging crowd representing a perfect cross-section of New Yorkers, and a usually gruff and busied bartender jotting tabs on slips of paper to be settled in cash.
The next part of the ritual: finding out which dining room beckons. Broadway, to the right of the host stand, is where I had my first-ever Luger meal, so I have a soft spot for it, but one of my dining companions rates it last among the three options. Corner, to the left, is the largest and a fine choice, but Driggs (above), straight ahead, is the ancestral home of this holiday dinner and probably our favorite — and the one where, without asking, we were seated this year. (There’s also an upstairs, where we landed in 2021. Don’t let this happen to you.)
Then, the order ritual: menus are refused, the canonical list, recited — bacon, the tomatoes and onions (to be drowned in Luger steak sauce), and porterhouse for three with hash browns and creamed spinach. In my 20-plus years dining at Luger, the steak has never scored less than an eight, and nearly always hits 10, as it did this year. Hallelujah is not too strong a word.
For dessert, the sneaky-excellent cheesecake and the hot fudge sundae with schlag, which in younger days we smeared on each other’s faces and now we merely inhale by the spoonful. To conclude: another cash payment — the pre-dinner visit to the ATM ritual — and then the exit through the bar, past the late crowd and the yellowed press clipping of Johnny Carson declaring the meal he ate at Luger to be the best of his life.
And thus the ritual is finished, another year of New York City living in the books. This is why we do it. –Lockhart Steele