We're running a bit late to the corner of 55th & 3rd. Max Wastler is waiting for our lunch date. After a handful of text exchanges, we spot him in the red brick saloon—penny-tile floors, carved mahogany bar, tin ceiling and stained-glass transoms. P.J. Clarke’s is a vestige of a better time—another century all together. It also serves a legendary burger. It’s wall-to-wall packed with suits (and deals were certainly being made) but we manage a grip of stools at Doug Quinn’s bar with a bit of timing and keen eyes.
It’s a UES landmark nestled on a corner of what the locals have deemed “Hamburger Row.” Once owned by Patrick J. Clarke, an Irish emigrant, he was hired in the early 1900s by a Mr. Duneen who ran the saloon. After about ten years working for him, the eponymous owner bought the bar and changed the name. The building has squatted this corner since 1884, a holdout on the block despite the taunting 47-story skyscraper ominously waiting to swallow it up. P.J. Clarke’s has counted Frank Sinatra (an extremely generous tipper) and Jacqueline Onassis as patrons—Jackie’s choice fare being a spinach salad and a quick hamburger. The preppy patronage stretches back further than the legacies at Dartmouth.
Clarke’s burgers are served atop a thin sliced raw onion (supposedly to keep the bottom bun from soaking) and a hefty pickle spear. Quinn, arguably one of the best bartenders in the city, slides the storied burgers up next to our beers. He is always in a bow tie. It’s his thing for reasons serving function as much as form. And the burger, well, it tastes like a era when Americans made things better.
915 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10022