What do we mean by old-school? Let’s start with old. The places on the list have to actually be old. Then there’s the school, which here is more like a belief system. The servers aren’t going to regale you with stories about how the cows are read bedtime stories every night, and serenaded with Chopin every morning. You’ll have heard of the cocktails. The background music is going be crooned by guys named Frank or Dino, and won’t sound like something you’d hear at a spa. And the steaks? They’re not going to be fussy, showy or pretentious. They’re going to be steaks. Damn good ones, too, because all these places understood farm-to-table before it was a marketing term. Point is, these are the kind of lived-in spots where you can nestle in, talk to your friends, your colleagues, your father, whomever, over a perfectly cooked steak, all while being taken care of by folks who consider you family just for walking in the door. These… are the 10 best old-school steakhouses in the country.
Keens Steakhouse, NYC: You’ll find the country’s oldest steakhouses in NYC because, back in the day, it was the only city with people wealthy enough to afford great steaks. Happily, steaks are more accessible these days, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for one than Keens. There’s masterly paintings on the walls, pipes hanging from the ceiling, leather and oak as far as the eye can see. Oh, and the steaks are pretty good, too.
The Golden Steer, Las Vegas: Elvis and Sinatra didn’t agree on much, but they agreed on this: getting a steak at the Golden Steer, the oldest steakhouse in Vegas. These days, both men have booths named after them, where you can settle into the old-school atmosphere—red-leather banquettes, ambient lighting, Caesar salads prepped tableside—and order yourself the same New York strip that Sinatra is said to have preferred.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, Chicago: Opened in 1989, Gibsons just feels like it’s been around forever, with its dark-mahogany walls and serious chops. And we mean serious chops: Gibsons is the only restaurant in the country with its own USDA-certified angus beef program, which means they control your steak’s quality from the time it’s a cow to when it’s on your plate. Sort of like a suitmaker who gets first crack at rare Italian fabrics.
Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse, Kansas City, MO: Much like Bo Derek, Jess and Jim’s earned its first national exposure in Playboy in the ’70s, when legendary scribe Calvin Trillin named it the best steakhouse in the country. Four decades later, not much has changed, nor should it. You can still get a KC Strip (naturally) or a 30-ounce Porterhouse, served in a disarmingly low-key space, from the third-generation family members running the place.
Bern’s Steak House, Tampa, FL: Tampa has been feeling the Bern since 1956, when Bern and Gert Laxer opened their steakhouse in a former bar called Beer Haven. (They called it Bern’s because they could save money by reusing Beer Haven’s neon letters.) These days, it’s known for two things: 1, having the largest wine list in the world; and 2, the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, where 50 desserts and roughly 1,000 dessert wines are on offer.
St. Elmo Steak House, Indianapolis: There are approximately 10 people on earth older than this 114-year-old steakhouse in the heart of Indianapolis. Before you get that old, be sure to drop into the saloon-like spot (with a real-deal, old-school tiger-oak bar), which just looks and feels like a place where oil men close deals. (More recently, the deal to bring the Colts to Indy was sealed here, and Peyton Manning repaired to St. Elmo to go over his first big contract.)
Taylor’s, Los Angeles: The Koreatown original has been around since 1953, when it was known as Taylor’s Tavern and was basically a bar with food. The operation moved in 1970 and grew bigger. Their specialty is the hard-to-find culotte steak, ten ounces of meaty goodness made with a cut that’s ultra-prized in Brazil and cooked to perfection here. It all comes in a cozy spot with sumptuous booths and a Ron Burgundy-worthy leather-wrapped bar.
Cattlemen’s, Oklahoma City: If you’re not convinced by the name, you’ll be convinced by the location: in the middle of OKC’s Stockyards City, beneath a cattle-rancher sign. If you’re not convinced by the location, consider the rich history, including Prohibition, when the place served up home-brewed booze. If you’re not convinced by the history, consider the clientele: President Reagan has dined here, as have John Wayne and Gene Autry.
Pappas Bros, Houston and Dallas: Each of Pappas’ three locations (two in H-Town, one in Big D) embodies a classic steakhouse vibe. Plentiful wine on the walls, white tablecloths, and then there’s the steak. Each spot dry ages their meat on site, and employs full-time, in-house butchers, offering an unparalleled degree of quality control.
Your Pick, Omaha, NE: There’s Brother Sebastian’s, where your meal is served by men dressed like monks. There’s Gorat’s, where Warren Buffett goes. The 84-year-old Johnny’s Cafe has the right look and feel, which is why Alexander Payne cast it for Jack Nicholson’s retirement party in About Schmidt. And we didn’t even get to Cascio’s or Farmer Brown’s (in nearby Waterloo). Wherever you go, you’ll be eating Nebraska-raised beef served right by Nebraskans, in a town once home to the nation’s largest livestock market. Point is, you can’t go wrong.