Smith & Wollensky’s paradox is anachronism. Despite its heritage-heavy decor, in his mid-50s, Danny Kissane is older than the joint itself, making it a mere adolescent compared to the more aged New York City steakhouses. This is by design. “We want you to think it’s been there for 150 years,” says Michael Stillman, president and founder of Quality Group, the establishment’s parent company.
(It’s probably no coincidence that Stillman’s father, Alan, founded Smith & Wollensky after creating T.G.I. Friday's, the chain that, until recently, commodified nostalgia as a differentiating factor for its strip-mall pubs.)
So why do this city’s steakhouses tend to cluster on the fault line of paradox? “America is contradictory about everything,” says Fussell, and as one of its oldest traditions, NYC’s steakhouses are witness to that. How many steakhouse customers, she ponders, even “know where their steak comes from, or care? That’s part of it. They don’t want to know, they just want the bragging rights: ‘I went to Peter Luger’s last night.’”