beefsteak dinner

Have you noticed that men seem nearly concerned about their bodies as women, lately? I feel like suddenly I keep encountering men who know more than I do about juice cleanses and the benefits of protein shakes and basically not eating solids, ever. Eating only baby food and duck’s blood soup, Empress Sisi style. The thing is, I do not really want to talk about the benefits of kale smoothies with my man friends, because I already have 100 female friends who can talk about them forever. Really, all I want is a man who eats steak. With his hands. Just men with raw steaks hanging out of their mouths, like some sort of Bosch nightmare creatures.

That’d be awesome.

Shame no one has beefsteak dinners anymore.

God, Beefsteak dinners were great. They were a weird 19th century dining trend. The Museum of the City of New York explains:

Beefsteaks were initially all-male gatherings, with small groups of men gathering in rustic taverns or dingy cellars where, sitting on crates or stools, they would sing, tell stories, eat steaks, and drink ale with abandon. In these “dungeons,” etiquette was set aside. No knives or forks were allowed. The participants ate tender morsels of beef steak, accompanied by gravy-sopped slices of bread, with their hands, wiping the grease on large napkins or aprons.

In the New Yorker, Joseph Mitchell remarked:

The life of the party at a beefsteak used to be the man who let out the most ecstatic grunts, drank the most beer, ate the most steak, and got the most grease on his ears, but women do not esteem a glutton, and at the contemporary beefsteak it is unusual for a man to do away with more than three pounds of meat and twenty-five glasses of beer. Until around 1920, beefsteak etiquette was quite rigid. Knives, forks, napkins, and tablecloths never had been permitted; a man was supposed to eat with his hands…


I hope so.

…“The foundation of a good beefsteak is an overflowing amount of meat and beer. The tickets usually cost five bucks, and the rule is ‘All you can hold for five bucks.’ If you’re able to hold a little more when you start home, you haven’t been to a beefsteak, you’ve been to a banquet that they called a beefsteak.”

Mitchell also claimed of the dining experience “”I’m so full I’m about to pop. Push those kidneys a little nearer, if you don’t mind.”

Yes. More kidneys, always more.

Do you know what our dining trend is now? Neuro-gastronomy. We are flavoring broths so we can pretend they are food.

That is actually the opposite of sitting around in a dungeon tearing apart a side of beef with your hands. The only way that could get cooler is if forks were allowed, but only for stabbing out eyeballs. But then, the no fork thing wasn’t just some sort of “lets roleplay being savages!” thing – the whole notion of using a fork was considered surprisingly effeminante. This notion is brought up in a Slate piece on the history of forks:

Carolin Young notes that in 1605, an anonymous allegorical novel about the courtiers of Henry III portrayed a mysterious island peopled by hermaphrodites, whose behavior is characterized by theatricality, artifice, and falsehood. Sure enough, the hermaphrodites eat with forks, spilling more food than they manage to consume in their pursuit of the new and the unnecessary. Young traces the “unsettlingly effeminate aura” of the fork all the way through 1897, when British sailors are still eating without forks, considering them to be unmanly.

They weren’t pretending to be ancient Visigoths, they were pretending to be modern sailors. Which is kind of fascinating! I suppose we still have a culture of “hungry man products” but pretty much no one eats three pounds of meat these days except tiny girls with fast metabolisms who win hot dog eating contests.

Incidentally, those girls would have started being admitted into beefsteak dinners around 1920, which is also around the time they started using dining utensils at Beefsteaks (and nothing was ever cool or sailor-like again). Gothamist quotes Mitchell and says:

The Eighteenth Amendment brought about mixed drinking; a year and a half after it went into effect, the salutation ‘We Greet Our Better Halves’ began to appear on the souvenir menus of beefsteaks.” One chef reportedly said: “Womenfolks didn’t know what a beefsteak was until they got the right to vote.”

I bet their tiny lady bellies could hold only two pounds of meat on average, though. Maybe they compensated with smearing grease extra wildly on their ears, like perfume.

Beefsteak dinners seemed to have faded away into obscurity, submerged presumably under a gelatinous mountain of fat-free dairy products. However, there’s still one held yearly in Brooklyn. I expect to see everyone, male and female, there. I am bring a fork, but it is only for poking, not for eating. You bring the grease.

Picture via Brooklyn Beefsteak