Little known fact: Peter Luger Steak House, the famed, legendary Brooklyn establishment, wasn’t always called Peter Luger. In fact, when it first opened in 1887, it was called Carl Luger’s Cafe, and it was primarily a hall for billiards and bowling.
Peter was the owner, but his nephew and business partner, Carl, was head of the kitchen. For about 20 years, the restaurant remained a local haunt, with only Williamsburg neighbors dropping in. But with the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, a new crowd of businessmen started crossing the river for Carl’s high-quality steaks and the rather solemn tone set by Peter, who was known to hover around the dining room with a stoic glare. He wasn’t enough to scare meat-loving Manhattanites away.
In 1920, a seemingly inconsequential neighbor moved in across the street. It was Sol Forman, a silver wares manufacturer and distributor. And though this was definitely convenient for the restaurant, which quickly hired Sol as a supplier for restaurant necessities, it wasn’t until decades later that Sol would truly impact Luger’s legacy.
When Peter Luger passed away in 1941, the restaurant fell into disrepair. Sol, who was known to eat two and sometimes three steaks in one day, refused to find another lunch spot. When, by 1950, the desolate steakhouse went to auction, he eagerly went to bid...and was the only one who bothered. Deed in hand, he soon went to work restoring Lugers to its former glory. His wife Marsha became the head of meat inspection and purchasing. She immediately honed her new task, beefing up on her butchery knowledge under the tutelage of a former USDA grader. Together, Sol and Marsha built out the on-site dry aging facilities and built Peter Luger into a national name, a destination for discerning carnivores.
Today, the Forman family members carefully select the meat and still operate the restaurant. They attribute their continued success with “not messing with much.” The scrubbed oak tables, chairs and bar have been in place since Luger. Succulent steaks (10 tons a week!) continue to flow ceaselessly from the kitchen. The mood even still remains reverential. But, of course, it’s not a billiards hall anymore.