The Origins of the Beefsteak Dinner
In the late 19th century, rustic, private beefsteak dinners became a popular form of entertainment among the New York elite. By the turn of the century, their popularity expanded beyond the homes of the wealthy to become something of a phenomenon in top New York restaurants.
These were not exactly elegant affairs. As a matter of fact they were famed for their rather barbaric approach to the art of gluttony. They were exclusively male. The diners donned white butcher’s aprons and chef hats to eat steaks with their hands while sitting on boxes and barrels in an environment contrived to seem menacing.
They used the skirt of the apron to wipe the grease off their faces. Napkins were not allowed. The name of the organization that was running the beefsteak would often be printed across the bib and the men took the aprons home for souvenirs.
No utensils were furnished either, everyone ate with their hands. The thick slices of steak, dipped in melted butter and grilled on a hickory fire, were accompanied by triangles of bread. In the classic version little else was served other than stalks of celery and unlimited mugs of beer (the steaks were unlimited too).
In 1908, the 24 Karat Club came up with the idea of holding a special event to entice members to its meetings with a combination of a business meeting and dinner. They decided to jump into the “craze” hold a true beefsteak dinner.
One of the most popular locations for Beefsteak Dinners was Reisenweber’s Beefsteak Garret . Reisenweber’s had a number of locations in New York, one of which was on Maiden Lane which the Club would use as a lunch club. The Reisenweber’s Beefsteak Garret was all the way up town at Columbus Circle and the members decided it would be perfect to get away from their places of business to have a great time.
The first Beefsteak Dinner was held in April of 1908, the same month that Mark Twain would be honored at a Reisenweber’s Beefsteak Dinner in the same room.