It’s Steak and Kidney Pie Day at The North Star Pub
(excerpted from the bartender’s GIN compendium.)
I worked at the North Star Pub in New York’s South Street Seaport for almost exactly four years, starting in February, 1988. They were four of my favorite years in the business, though I seldom worked behind the bar there—I was a manager-type at the time.
The North Star was as English as a pub could be, given that it was over 3,000 miles away from the Green and Pleasant Land, and it was Deven Black, the General Manager of the joint, who had made it that way. He refused to stock American beer, he boasted a collection of almost 100 single malt scotches, and since the pub catered to Anglophiles and transplanted Brits, he stocked lots of gins, too, Bombay and Bombay Sapphire among them. And whenever I think of these gins, I’m reminded of a guy we called Frank the Bank—a Bombay gin man through and through.
The picture above is of Quentin Crisp, a man who I am proud to say was a friend of mine, a Pearly Queen who entertained us when we held events at the North Star, and myself, circa 1990
The food at the North Star was also unequivocally British. We served authentic Bangers and Mash (the sausages were made by Peter Myers, a Brit in the Village who owned a grocery store called Myers of Keswick), and we also offered Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips and the like. Steak and Kidney Pie, though, was not on our menu—it’s a hard sell in New York—but we offered it as a special from time to time, and quite a few of our regulars, lots of them were Brits who emigrated to New York to take jobs on Wall Street, ordered it every time we chalked it up on the blackboard.
Here we see a few of the regulars at the North Star on St. George’s Day, 1990—we made everyone wear the newspaper hats, and gave them all pretty line drawings of St. George slaying the dragon, and crayons with which to color them.
One of the regulars, a Canadian guy who worked at The Royal Bank of Scotland, handed me his business card one day, and asked me to call him next time we served Steak and Kidney Pie. This made me ponder, and it wasn’t long before I started to compile “The Steak and Kidney Pie List.” Every time the chef decided to feature the dish I’d get on the phone and call around twenty people whose numbers I’d gathered after seeing them order this British specialty. Most of the people on the list were high-level bankers and the like, so it was seldom that they actually picked up the phone.
“Tell him it’s Steak and Kidney Pie Day.” I’d instruct whoever answered the call.
“I beg your pardon?”
“He’ll know what you mean,” I’d say before hanging up and dialing the next number.
The ploy worked quite well. Not everyone on the list would show up every time I called, but we’d see, perhaps, a dozen Steak and Kidney Pie fans walk through the door on the days when we featured the dish. One day, though, this brilliant marketing scheme very nearly backfired.
Frank the Bank, as he was known, was a true Brit. He was a very successful banker who had come up from being a street kid in London. Frank the Bank had a keen sense of humor, everyone loved the man, and he was a huge fan of Steak and Kidney Pie. Frank called me over to his table one day as he was scarfing his lunch, and he told me what had gone down at work that morning after I’d spoken to his assistant.
“I was in a meeting with my ‘boss of all bosses,’ a guy from headquarters in London. I’d told my assistant that I wasn’t to be disturbed under any circumstances, but she walked into the meeting anyway, and she shoved a note into my hand. I opened it up and read the words ‘It’s Steak and Kidney Pie Day.’ She thought it was a code for some potentially important banking thing,” Frank told me.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Well, I love my assistant, and I didn’t want to get her into trouble so I looked my boss dead in the eye and told him that I had to leave immediately. I didn’t explain a thing. I left him thinking that something incredibly important personal thing must have cropped up, because otherwise there was no way I would have dared to leave him like that. Then I came down here for my Steak and Kidney Pie,” he grinned.
You’ve got to love a guy like Frank the Bank, right?