More people should be eating steak sandwiches at this bar

A private corner table in a beautiful dining room will never match the allure of a seat at the bar. By myself or with a date, social niceties are more relaxed on a stool, with our elbows resting on the counter.

The gaps in conversation feel less excruciating with attentions occupied elsewhere: the bartender bartending, the birthday shots, the couple fighting and the elderly man mumbling to himself while he struggles with a crossword puzzle.

I appreciate the intimacy with the person serving my drinks and the earnest effort made at connection.

The setting and liquid courage afford me a level of confidence rarely found outside of a Sabrina Carpenter song about petite caffeinated beverages. At the bar, my give-an-F’s are on vacation.

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It is this mentality that I adopt at the dark, wood-lined bar at Lawry’s The Prime Rib on La Cienega Boulevard. It’s a bar I’ve patronized since I was 8 years old. Before you start to question my parents, hear me out.

This 86-year-old temple of prime rib was the place we visited for birthday parties and other major milestones. It’s as much a part of Los Angeles as the street signs and the movie studios. Was there a grander way to celebrate in the ’90s than with a 600-pound silver cart full of standing ribs of beef wheeled by a master carver in a chef’s toque? The waitresses spun ice-cold bowls of salad at the table! They called you “hun” and “sweetie” and wore brown gowns with white aprons and matching hats.

I can’t remember an evening at Lawry’s that didn’t start with a trip to the bar. Most of my extended family is incapable of punctuality, so my immediate family would often wait at the bar for the rest of our party to arrive.

It was the most magical place, with a soundtrack of ice rattling in shakers, glamorous adults mingling and as many self-service, free meatballs as would ruin your appetite for dinner.

They removed the meatballs in the bar around seven years ago. Last week, my bartender told me it had something to do with all the people who walked out with boxes full of them.

This prompted outrage and a Change.org petition to bring them back. David Kramer, one of the six people who signed the online petition in 2016, wrote, "What am I supposed to do while I wait for my table? Not eat meatballs?!?!?!”

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I hear you, David, but you can still get a bowl of complimentary potato chips. And you’re rewarded with a menu of bar food not allowed in the main dining room.

It is here that you’ll find the prime rib katsu sando, introduced to the bar in early May. The 6-ounce cut of certified Angus beef prime rib is breaded with panko breadcrumbs and fried. Though the exterior is crisp, the meat is still the luxurious slab of beef you expect from Lawry’s, dressed with a sweet katsu sauce and sandwiched between two slices of thick, toasted pain de mie with the crusts cut off. It’s sliced into four large squares and finished with shaved curls of fresh horseradish.

That horseradish hits like an electric charge, fizzling out as you reach the soft bread and buttery meat. Cut into neat, gargantuan quarters, it’s like eating a tea sandwich meant for Shrek.

For something a little less refined and a lot messier to consume, the prime rib sandwich will guarantee a dribble or two of meat juice on your shirt. The 6-ounces of prime rib are hand-carved thin, buried under a siege of caramelized onions and melted Gruyere cheese. It’s served on a toasted hoagie roll alongside a gravy boat of the restaurant’s signature jus for dipping.

A halved sandwich on a hoagie roll with a gravy boat in the background.
The Prime Rib sandwich from Lawry's The Prime Rib. (Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The bartenders have superhuman hearing, and a fresh meat-and-potato martini may arrive shortly after you tell your date you want another. Or maybe, they can just read minds.

I am not as specific about my vodka martinis as some, and order this one mostly for the garnish. Floating in the ice-cold glass of Chopin potato vodka are three green olives stuffed with squares of prime rib.

For the vegetarians, there are potato tots the size of giant Legos, their shells impenetrable fortresses of crispy potato and their insides soft and shredded. You can also order one of the spinning salads, minus the table-side spinning.

In 2018, the restaurant underwent some major design changes that included creating a window from the bar to the main dining room, visible behind the wall of spirits. You can sort of see through to the grand room, just catching the glint of one of the meat carts. But the best view is from the two seats at the right end of the bar. From here, you can get a look at the brown-gown-clad servers who come to pick up their tables’ drink orders at the service window.

On Fridays there is live music, but I’m never there for the Ed Sheeran covers. I prefer the weeknights when I can hear myself think, it’s never overcrowded and time stalls.

I’d happily die on a Lawry's tufted-leather bar stool and embrace a never-ending procession of martinis and prime rib sandwiches in the afterlife.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.