Why I still Love Peter Luger Steak House and always will | Namichef

Peter Luger Steak House

Pete Wells, the esteemed food critic of the New York Times, did the unthinkable.  On October 29, 2019, the Times published his scathing review of Peter Luger Steak House.  His rating of ‘Satisfactory’ equates to 0-stars.  Shear heresy or a wake-up call?  Probably both.

A little background, Peter Luger Steak House (Luger’s), started in 1887 and is one of New York City’s oldest restaurants.  It is in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn and like most areas of New York it has been home to waves of different immigrant groups.  Today it’s hipsters and the Hasidic Jewish community.

I consider Luger’s to be an ‘aspirational’ restaurant.  I don’t want to eat there, I ‘aspire’ to eat there, and here’s why:

  • History
  • Location
  • Reputation
  • Character
  • Price
  • Food

That’s why Well’s 0-star rating was a punch to the gut of the world’s greatest steakhouse town.  As a matter of fact, start typing in ‘Pete Wells’ in Google, and even before you finish typing the third choice is “Pete Wells Peter Luger”.

If I were to characterize my thoughts about Luger’s I would also use the word “blissful”.  So after reading the review, when my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday I replied, “dinner at Luger’s”.  I thought it was absolutely impossible that Wells’ article was accurate and I had to see for myself.  BTW, ‘aspirational’ restaurants almost automatically mean a splurge which is why I go to Luger’s about every two years.

The restaurant itself is huge.  The decor is a kind of Germanic hunting lodge with bright lighting that makes 0 effort at ambience.  The servers are all middle-aged to old men.  It’s the kind of restaurant where if you go a few times, you no longer need a menu.

My post-Wells meal?  He was largely right.  My German potatoes were mushy rather than the crispy I was used to and my magnificent Porterhouse was cold.  Granted I like my beef rare but cold is cold.  Also, Wells described the servers as needing a nap.  In my case, my guy was competent but looked bored.

Oh, how the mighty had fallen.  It’s as though the world’s greatest steakhouse, where you had to book a reservation week in advance, seemed to decide, that people will come here no matter what.

So when my birthday came around this year and my wife asked me what I wanted, once again I said, “a steak dinner” and proceeded to book a reservation at one of Luger’s rivals.  A place that I could walk to from my apartment rather than take two subways, with a sexy atmosphere and awesome food.

So why did a little voice inside of me say, “let’s see if there’s anything available at Luger’s… just out of curiosity of course”.  Well, my birthday was on a Friday this year and all that was left was 4:45 PM and 10:30 PM so I contented myself with dinner at an equally expensive restaurant that was awesome as well.

Case closed, right?  Well… I put myself under ‘Notify’ on my Resy app just to see what would happen.  When a 9:30 table opened up, I thought it was a bit late so I passed.  Next came 9:15.  The same result but when 8:45 popped up I took it and immediately canceled my reservation at Luger’s rival.

Why did I do it?  Because it’s f’ing Peter Luger Steak House that’s why.  Birthdays are a special occasion and the trip on the subway, the walk to the restaurant, and the drink at the bar are all special at Luger’s.  Even seeing the maitre d’ (whom Wells unfairly dissed in my opinion) with his massive list of names of people waiting for their tables was a special occasion.

So how was my dinner, this time?  My steak was perfect, my potatoes were crispy and when my wife snuck off to ask the waiter to put a candle in my dessert, he complied and cheered the entire room to sing “Happy Birthday”.

Peter Luger steak house is still one of two steakhouses in NYC with a Michelin Star.  The other is an outstanding Korean Barbeque take on a steak house so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.  Reservations are still hard to come by but not as difficult as before.  You can always argue about which steakhouse is best but there is only one steakhouse in NYC that is ‘aspirational’ – Luger’s.