Like burlesque shows, speakeasies and handlebar mustaches, a Beefsteak is among the many old-timey traditions holding on in New York.
The events consist of a greasy, no-silverware banquet of unlimited steak and beer, inspired by a political fundraiser in the mid-1800s (Boss Tweed was apparently a big fan).
In the past few years, these bovine bacchanalia have been popping up throughout the New York and New Jersey areas. The Brooklyn Beefsteak, held last Sunday at the Bell House in Gowanus, is now in its fifth year. We learned that it’s a heck of a fun time, but not for the faint of stomach. If you plan on attending one of these events, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Under No Circumstances Should You Wear Clothes You Care About.
As you enter, they’ll give you a cloth apron and a paper butcher hat, but these are poor defenses against the oncoming tide of grease and beer. When choosing your outfit, think, “Could this double as a napkin?”
2. Ignore the Peanuts and Pickles.
They’ll be on your table. You’ll be tempted to eat them while you’re waiting for beef. Don’t. They will merely distract your digestive system from the deathblow you’re about to deliver it.
3. Make Sure Your Hands Are Clean.
The most important rules of the beefsteak are: no silverware and no plates allowed. You’ll be shoving slippery steak directly into your face with your bare hands. If you’re a germaphobe, bring an industrial-size bottle of Purell. If the idea of eating like a caveman appeals to you, you’ll have a blast.
4. Save Your Bread for the Bread Tower.
Each mini burger or strip of hanger steak is served on a small slice of bread. As the evening progresses, every dining group competes to build the tallest tower of greasy bread hunks. You don’t win an actual prize, but isn’t a giant tower of bread a reward in itself?
5. No Food Fights.
They’re pretty serious about it.
6. Snag a Beer Pitcher Early.
The beer is unlimited, but you still probably have to walk 15 feet to the bar for a refill. That is, unless you can find a pitcher and send a friend to fill it, leaving you free to focus on consuming more cow.
7. Make Friends With Beefsteak Betty.
At Bell House, Beefsteak Betty is the zaftig, tattooed drum majorette who serves as the event’s emcee. She’s also the judge of the bread tower contest, so if you get on her good side, you’ll have a better chance at being crowned a Beefsteak champion.
8. If You Enter the Eating Contest, Bring a Friend You Trust.
The Beefsteak is basically one big eating contest, but there’s also an official challenge up on the stage. It works in pairs: One team member opens his or her mouth, and the other shoves food and beer in there as fast as possible. Also, they’re blindfolded. Don’t bring anyone who might have reason to exact revenge upon you—murder by beef is just too tempting a prospect.
9. Sing along with the Band.
The Brooklyn Beefsteak house band is a rockabilly trio called Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co., and some of their songs have call-and-response sections. The choruses are printed on menus, but since those will have long since disintegrated under the grease, just yell out beef! or beer! and you’ll be fine.
10. Plan Your Ride Home.
Stumbling out into the sunlight after three solid hours of gluttony, you’ll feel like a bear awakened too early from hibernation. You may not be able to move, let alone find your way home. Uber, or call a friend with a wheelbarrow.
11. You Will Smell like Meat for Days.
The scent of grilled meat will continue to ooze from your pores long after you’ve left the dining hall. Dogs will love you. Vegetarians will shun you. If you’re dating a vegan, you’ll probably break up. It’s worth it though.