What Ever Happened To Restaurant Chain Beefsteak Charlie's?

It's a big deal to call someplace a "famous Manhattan restaurant." Every restaurant in Manhattan is famous. You have to be famous if you want to afford the rent. Perhaps the first-ever and subsequently most enduring "famous Manhattan restaurant" was a sandwich shop called Beefsteak Charlie's. It was in operation for 70 years, during the largest industrial boom in American history since the agricultural revolution died off. Vintage apparel companies still print tee shirts emblazoned with the name. So, what ever happened to Beefsteak Charlie's?

The original spot was founded in 1914 by Charles W. Chessar, a longstanding Manhattan restauranteur. Chessar got the nickname "Beefsteak Charlie" thanks to his local fame as a food man with skin in the game. Howard Williams, a sports editor for the New York Morning Telegraph, branded the nickname shortly after Chessar opened his first sandwich shop in 1910. 

Under Chessar's ownership, Beefsteak Charlie's was a sports bar featuring steak sandwiches and a heavy sprinkle of horse racing decor. When it switched hands in 1934 and went to William Soshnick, a New York newcomer from Poland, the scene switched from sports heads to jazz musicians. This New York Times article from 1934 mourns the restaurant's change in ownership; it's always been a fan favorite. Beefsteak Charlie's didn't even begin franchising till 1976, according to The Big Apple, when the restaurant was bought by renowned restaurateur Larry Ellman — the same guy who put the New York fine-dining staple Longchamps on the map.

"I'll feed you like there's no tomorrow!"

According to Retroist, among Chessar's classic catchphrases with customers was, "I'll feed you like there's no tomorrow!" A little intimidating? Sure. But dripping with all the sincerity and moxy you could ask for from your corner joint.

So, whatever happened to Beefsteak Charlie's? Like so many icons, they faded in time. In 1985, they signed a merger with Bombay Palace Restaurants and slipped away like a sunset so beautiful it makes you cry. By the time they shuttered their windows for good in 1987, Beefsteak Charlie's had expanded to over 60 locations.

The legacy of Beefsteak Charlie's has long outlived the physical shops. Todd Rundgren's "Boogies (Hamburger Hell)" pays homage to the joint. It opens with the line, "Beefsteak Charlie says to Porky the Pig, 'I can see the party lights.'" In the sitcom Friends (Season 4, Episode 13, "The One With Rachel's Crush"), Chandler convinces himself his girlfriend cheated on him and gets drunk at a Beefsteak Charlie's. It's the same way Katz's Deli, although still in operation, lives on in When Harry Met Sally (1989). Sitting down in a favorite sandwich shop is like sitting down in your own living room, and nobody loves a good sandwich shop like a New Yorker.