Minetta Tavern and Mad Men

As a newcomer to New York, I made a lot of  mistakes in my first few weeks – wrong subways, wrong way, wrong change – and it was awfully irritating.  Because of this I spent most of my time wandering around with my nose in any of the four guidebooks I owned. I relied on them to show me the way and followed their advice religiously.

I had originally planned to visit  Brooklyn’s Academy of Music to see a movie about the city. But after several subway mistakes suffering through dodgy Brooklyn neighborhoods I decided to get back on my reliable L train and go to Manhattan. Manhattan is safe. It has a grid. Surely I couldn’t get lost. But I did get lost and ended up on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village.

“Why am I already familiar with MacDougal Street?” I wondered to myself. It sounds like a vaguely Irish name, but that’s not the reason. As I passed a small, understated restaurant on the corner, I remembered … Of course, The Minetta Tavern! The Minetta Tavern’s ‘Black Label’ burger is mentioned in no less than four separate articles in my Time Out guide. It also frequently features in the Mad Men series as one of the bars where Rodger Sterling and company have their after-work martinis. After my disastrous trip, I decided to treat myself and wandered in.

I almost stumbled inside the door because the interior was so dark. But as my eyes adjusted I began to recognize the classic interior; deep red velvet chairs, framed vintage caricatures and old-fashioned cream lamps. I really felt like I had gone back to an older, more glamorous time. The waiter was pleasant without resorting to the smiling fakery that I was growing tired of in other New York establishments. He showed me to my seat and I began to make my way through the incredibly expensive menu. I looked at the Black Label price tag – 28 dollars, not including tax or tip – and felt a pang of guilt. I was being excessive. I was going to waste most of my savings on my silly attempt to feel as important as a Sterling Cooper executive.

The guilt must have subsided, or the delicious rhubarb cocktail must have kicked in, because I found myself ordering a starter as well as the Black Label burger. The pâté was distinctly average and this brought back my feelings of guilt and stupidity. But the Black Label cured all those feelings. It was a simple creation: bread bun, caramelized onions and a beef patty. No frills. But the soft ground steak mince melted in my mouth like no burger has ever done before, or since. The meat had a distinctive smoky flavor that complimented the bun’s subtle sweetness. It was smaller than it had looked in the pictures in Time Out but I ate it slowly, savoring each tiny bite.

I watched as each new person entered the restaurant and ordered the same. It seems the Black Label burger has quite a reputation beyond the pages of Time Out Guide. It cannot be denied that the price tag is ostentatious, but luckily for me, it felt completely worth it. Was I mad to pay so much for it? Probably!


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