Steak, Hold the Cheese

How Philadelphia is becoming a steakhouse town

“YOU SHOULD NEVER change a classic.” That was Arthur’s slogan, displayed proudly on its brick facade. And it’s hard to separate that word — “classic” — from “steakhouse.” A classic steakhouse isn’t just red meat; it’s red wines, too. It’s dark wood, rich men, cold martinis and clouds of cigar smoke — a stereotype that hasn’t changed much even with the decline of the three-martini lunch and the introduction of smoking restrictions. But today’s restaurateurs are searching for ways to tweak the tradition, to make the clubby steakhouse inviting to those who aren’t in the club via smaller cuts of meat, updated sides, user-friendly wine lists and less-stuffy decor.

Arthur’s closed in the mid-1980s. It was replaced by Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, an innovative, exotic restaurant that reflected the appetite of a city in the midst of a culinary revolution. Seven years later, just down the block, another such restaurant opened: Striped Bass. This year, Striped Bass was shuttered, reflecting a new change in our appetite. It’s now Butcher & Singer — a steakhouse. Just as the combination of a good cut of beef and big glass of cab continues to attract restaurateurs, it continues to pull us in, too, time and again — meat-and-potatoes comfort that has proven timeless.

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