I’m a sucker for old restaurants, especially places that date back to the “Mad Men” days of NYC’s mod past. I’m not sure if they filmed anything from Mad Men at Donohue’s, but they should have. It is truly scenic in there, and perfect for a show like that. And that’s kinda where my excitement for this place ends.
I’m not an ageist, and I’m by no means a young whippersnapper. But I think I may have seen Don Draper and Richard Sterling at one of the tables here, struggling to throw back one last martini before their final coronary. I’m 40, and I was probably the youngest person in the joint at 7pm on a Monday.
This place just sucks in old rich people for some reason. We even saw an octogenarian couple pull up in their two-seater Mercedes sports car and park right in front before slowly shambling their way inside. I don’t begrudge that though; it must be a rough haul to hoof it down from 68th and Park to 64th and Lex at that age.
But what’s the fucking attraction? Do they swap spouses or some shit? Is there a back room where they buy and sell peoples’ souls?
Well there you have my synopsis of this review in picture form. I posted those to Instagram the night of the meal. But allow me to expand on that with a full steakhouse review:
Donohue’s overall score: 66
The filet wasn’t a nightmare, but it lacked flavor. It was likely cooked without salt and butter. Maybe this method caters to the low cholesterol, low sodium, salt substitute -using, high blood pressure -having, at-risk-for-heart-failure crowd that frequents the place. Or maybe they just don’t know what the fuck they’re doing in the kitchen as far as seasoning goes. In terms of working the broiler, it really was cooked perfectly. The crust on the outside was crispy but not charred or burnt, and there was a nice pink center from edge to edge.
I split this with a friend, though, and he said he had some chewy bits that he spit out. My half was fine in terms of texture.
We also split a burger. This thing sucked, mainly because the stale and lifeless bun needs to be replaced and the meat didn’t have a good sear on it. Otherwise I would have been fine with a simple cheese skirt and the basic toppings. The steak fries that came with it were actually great. They were golden crisp on the outside and soft like mashed potatoes inside. I was actually surprised by them, since I usually dislike steak fries.
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 5
I’m not sure why this place holds itself out as a steakhouse when there are really only two cuts of beef being offered: sirloin and filet. That’s only half of the four basic steakhouse staples (assuming you count the sirloin as a strip). That said, they do offer other cuts as specials from time to time, and the menu lists the beef as prime.
Portion Size & Plating: 6
Portion sizes are a mixed bag here. My friend had a shrimp cocktail and there were just four medium-sized shrimp on it – certainly not “jumbo,” as listed on the menu. The crab cakes were small as well. The steak, however, was a good size for a filet; probably about 10 or 12oz. The same goes for the carrot cake; it was also a good portion size. Plating is very basic. Nothing fancy at all.
The pricing is another mixed bag. There’s something to be said about a steak joint that gives you a filet mignon, a salad, a potato and some onion rings for $40. While the majority of the side items sucked, I wouldn’t care if they just nailed the steak. A $40 price tag would still be good for that. I’d go all the time and give the sides and salads to a homeless person. The steaks and entrees are all under $40, and some are even under $30, which is great! But what makes things really odd is that so much other shit is overpriced. The small crab cakes ($19), the “jumbo” shrimp cocktail ($18), the kid’s size martini ($14)…
I’m used to feeling ripped off for getting double that amount of hooch for $18. This was some next level of rip off shit though. Maybe former Donohue’s regular Bernie Madoff is setting the pricing structure here. A seemingly good deal on entrees to get you in the door, and then a shitload of ass raping money grabs that would make Mr. Charles Ponzi himself stare in awe and envy from the beyond.
Bar and atmosphere are truly the reasons to come here. I love the dim lighting, the checkerboard floor, the warm wood tones, and the “regulars welcome” kind of neighborhood feel to a short, old, unchanged stretch of bar on Lexington. Sit down. Have a drink.
Specials and Other Meats: 6
There are chalkboards in the window out front and on the wall in the back that list many of the same items that are already printed on the menu. One or two things aren’t printed, though, so keep an eye on the chalkboard if you’re looking to be disappointed by an unlisted entree here. As for other meats, they have veal, chicken and pork. Not bad, but then again this place is more like a diner than a steakhouse, so I’m not really surprised at the variety.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 6
I started with an order of crab cakes.
I joked that these were like frozen food aisle items, but they really weren’t that bad. These little guys had a good crispy fried crust on the outside, and the inside was all crab meat, for the most part.
The steaks came with a green veggie, three onion rings and your choice of potato. I picked a salad and mashed potatoes. The potatoes may as well have been made from a powdered box mix; bland and somewhat dry. The salad was an afterthought; the kind you might get at a roadside diner on a transparent, filigreed, faux-glass plastic plate with your meatloaf. The onion rings were fine, however.
As I mentioned above, the fries were pretty solid, and the carrot cake was good. But it wasn’t great. It was indeed the best part of the meal, but in no way did this dessert hold a candle to something like the amazing carrot cake dessert at Ocean Prime. One of my buddies asked if they made the dessert in house, and the answer was a resounding no.
Seafood Selection: 7
There are several fish entrees to choose from here. More fish entrees than beef entrees, I think. My buddy had scallops, which were broiled with lemon and white wine (no butter). I think the low sodium, no butter thing is what draws the elderly in here. Or maybe the menu is catered to their palettes. Has to be. That and the nostalgia of reliving their youth in a neighborhood place that’s still open since 1950.
Our waitress forgot to bring us menus for about ten minutes and didn’t tell us about any specials, but that’s not really a big deal. Other than that, there were no problems. She remembered all the beers they had when my buddy asked, and she didn’t need to write anything down for our order. She was nice and pleasant, and she deftly swapped our forks and knives out between apps and entrees.
I truly love the ambiance here. I think it could use some sprucing up though. I’m not talking about a remodel or anything like that, but something to clean it up and make it even more appealing as an old classic. The prices have gone up and the lease is locked for another 10 years, so they can afford to do something if they want to.
In summary, I’m glad I came here, especially since my friends paid for my meal as a birthday gift. I probably wouldn’t go back for a full meal, but I’d definitely stop in to take in the scenery on occasion, and maybe have an order of fries at the bar. Probably a beer, too, since those weren’t painfully overpriced like the martinis.
To try to answer my own question about why so many old rich people go to Donohue’s: I think the low sodium, no butter thing is what draws the elderly in. Or maybe the cooks just cater to the palettes of their regulars. There’s nothing official or printed about no salt and no butter. It was just very evident. So that, plus the nostalgia of old folks reliving their youth in a neighborhood place that’s still open since 1950. As for the wealthy aspect? No idea. Must be the neighborhood.
845 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10065