Seated at the extra-long table in the boisterous Desmond’s Steakhouse dining room, Howard Slavin, a dapper, boyish 51-year-old taps his huge knife repeatedly against the empty glass in front of him, but it takes a while to quiet 15 carnivores. “Let’s start with Steak Club business,” he launches with the assurance of a prosecutor.
Said "club" goes back 21 years, when a rookie real estate mogul (Slavin) joined a softball team consisting of eight over-thirty players. They called themselves 9 Past Their Prime. After games, the guys would go out for steak together.
At some point, life happened. People got busy and the softball team lost steam—but no one lost their taste for steak. Now called 9 Eats Prime, the group meets monthly, except in the summer, in a different steakhouse, though they do make repeat visits to their favorites. As I'm told, the best way to never be asked back is to order expensive wine or, God forbid, lobster.
“They see us coming in, guys in suits, and they think we’re Wall Street types with expense accounts,” said Steve Sosnick, a founding member who lives and works in Connecticut. “This club is my City line.”
As our waiter makes his way around the table to take the orders, alliances emerge. “Wanna share the porterhouse for two?” I hear. Club member Andrew Gordon whispers his order, “The filet, medium well.” He tells me later, “I sit at the end [of the table] because I don't want anyone to know I like my meat well done!” All agree that décor, atmosphere, and service are important, but say, “Bottom line? We’re about steak.”
It’s only when the food arrives that a quasi-religious hush descends on the group, but Sosnick is not happy. “Our steak took way too long to arrive,” he utters before deeming his meat "totally overcooked."
"The bartender must be in the kitchen now," quips another member whose drink never materialized.
Meanwhile, I'm faced with a rib eye that must have been extracted from a brontosaurus. The meat is charred but juicy inside, and the crackling fat awakens my inner predator. This steak is delicious.
Slavin, who has been voted President for Life (PFL), asks to change the location of the next visit. “I’d like to try to get a table at M. Wells Steakhouse,” he says. Motion passed.
It’s the PFL who comes up with the restaurants. “You want to see the list?” he asks as he proceeds to unroll from his wallet a crumpled piece of paper the size of a rib bone. Solemnly, he reads from it as from the Torah.
The group rated Peter Luger as its favorite (the "King of Steak") for years, but the Williamsburg institution lost its title to Wolfgang’s, the brainchild of a Luger head waiter.
Every five years, the men revisit the best of the best. Besides Wolfgang’s, on the docket are Prime & Beyond and Keens, but the sound level heats up at the mention of Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse. The group is split evenly between "I hate it," "I love it," and "the music is unbearable."