Sammy’s Roumanian, iconic Lower East Side Jewish restaurant, mounts a comeback


(New York Jewish Week) —  The iconic Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse — the Lower East Side eatery famous for chopped liver prepared tableside, carafes of schmaltz on the tables and its shticky, in-house entertainer, Dani Luv — is mounting a comeback.

According to Eater New York, the Ashkenazi-influenced restaurant — which shuttered in January 2021 during the pandemic  — has a lease “in the works” at 191 Orchard St., between Houston and Stanton streets. The restaurant is “pursuing a liquor license application” with Community Board 3, according to the online publication.

Liquor — specifically vodka — was an essential part of the Sammy’s experience; it was not for nothing that it was known as a place “where every night was a bar mitzvah.” As New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote in his 2014 review: “Known for selling vodka bottles encased in ice, Sammy’s is New York’s original bottle-service restaurant, and still the only tolerable one.”

Notably, in that same review, Wells dropped two of the three stars awarded by one of his predecessors, pioneering restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, who wrote of owner Stan Zimmerman in 1978: “Mr. Zimmerman has made Sammy’s a huge success, lively, Bohemian, with a mixture of customers that include judges and politicians, union officials and artists in blue jeans, uptowners dressed to the teeth in Gucci trademarks and a double‐parked row of white Lincolns and black Cadillacs that can be seen almost any night of the week.”

In 2014, Wells described it thusly: “Sammy’s is still loudly, raucously, endlessly, embracingly Jewish, a permanent underground bar mitzvah where Gentiles can act like Jews and Jews can act like themselves.”

Located in a “dark and dingy” basement at 157 Chrystie Street, Sammy’s had been in business for 47 years — most recently run by Zimmerman’s son, David, until its abrupt closure. “All the years of devouring chopped liver with our special schmaltz, schmeared on rye bread with a side of pickles and a shot (or glass) of frozen vodka to wash it down will be remembered fondly,” the restaurant said in an Instagram post announcing its closure — where it also vowed to return one day. “We may be closed now, but when all this is over and we feel safe enough to hold hands during the hora, we will be back stronger, louder, and tastier than ever before.”

Since then, Sammy’s fans have made do with an occasional pop-up “Shabbat dinner series” that featured “Sammy’s Roumanian-themed food” at Quality Eats, and entertainer Dani Luv has been making the rounds, too.

“It’s all the dancing over the years,” Luv told the New York Jewish Week in May 2022 about his favorite thing about performing at Sammy’s. “When we did a hora, it was a 15-minute hora, where the Jews and Christians and African-American and Chinese New Yorkers were all dancing. That’s something that can only happen in New York. It would stop and start and stop and start again, always with a lot of jokes in between. It was really comedy, dancing and music. It was always the highlight of the evening.”

When asked what made Sammy’s special, “it was like nothing else,” Luv said. “The style was Jewish. The food was close to Jewish, some things were very Jewish. It was basically Eastern European Jewish food. Very basic food, but great food.”

“I think it’s important to have at least one place that reminds us of the old days, that feels very authentic, that connects us to the Jews on the Lower East Side and Chrystie Street at the beginning of the century through World War II,” he added.

According to Eater, Sammy’s will need liquor license approval from the community board in to open on Orchard Street; a meeting is on the schedule for mid-May.