Sammy’s Roumanian, famed Lower East Side restaurant, will reopen with a Passover seder


(New York Jewish Week) — It’s official: The beloved Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse is reopening this spring.

After many months of rumors, the Lower East Side’s iconic old-school Ashkenazi eatery — famous for its chopped liver prepared tableside, carafes of schmaltz and icy bottles of vodka — will reopen at 112 Stanton St. for the first and second nights of Passover this year, April 22 and 23.

On the set Passover menu are kosher-style classics like gefilte fish, chopped liver, stuffed cabbage, matzah ball soup and Roumanian sausages, and that’s just the appetizers, according to second-generation owner David Zimmerman — who describes himself as “the son of Sammy,” though his father was longtime proprietor Stanley Zimmerman, who ran the restaurant since shortly after it opened in 1975.

Participants can expect two seatings of a full seder both nights led by Cantor David Wallach.

The restaurant, which has been lovingly described as a “dark and dingy” place “where every night was a bar mitzvah,” will then be open on the weekends in May ahead of its “grand reopening” in June.

chopped liver

Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse is famous for many things, including its chopped liver, which is prepared tableside. (Courtesy David Zimmerman)

Unlike the restaurant’s original subterranean location at 157 Chrystie St., the new space is at ground level. It’s also more in the heart of the historically Jewish neighborhood, as opposed to the outskirts. “We’re back on the Lower East Side,” Zimmerman said. “We’re one block away from Katz’s, and you’ve got Russ & Daughters and you’ve got Yonah Schimmel’s.”

But other than the location, said Zimmerman, everything about the new Sammy’s Roumanian will be the same as the old one: the menu, the photos and business cards that adorn the walls, the staff and the nightly music stylings of its in-house entertainer, Dani Lubnitzki, who is better known to Sammy’s fans as Dani Luv.

“We want all that back,” Zimmerman said. “The same shtick, the same schmaltz.”

That’s schmaltz in both the literal sense as well as the figurative: A 20-plus-year veteran of Sammy’s, Dani Luv will return with his piano-and-vocal renditions of songs like “Hey Jew,” a take on the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”

“Oh my God, I’m so excited,” the entertainer told the New York Jewish Week about the reopening. Since the original Sammy’s closed, the musician has kept busy with gigs that recreated the Sammy’s experience. “But doing the real thing? I feel excellent. It’s about time.”

“It’s the last Jewish place with music, [and] Jewish, East European food,” he said about Sammy’s enduring appeal.

In a nod to modernity, Zimmerman said there will be a couple of additions to the menu including, perhaps, an Israeli salad. “My mother-in-law is Israeli,” he said. “You’ve got to put a couple of her dishes in there, of course. She’s a Jewish bubbe.” Exactly what these new dishes will be is still being discussed, he said.

As for the entertainment, “I always have Sinatra and Louis Armstrong and, of course, the hora,” Luv said. But we can expect some new hits, too: “There’s a couple of Billy Joels I’ve never done before … and even a couple of country music songs.”

When asked two years ago about his favorite thing about performing at Sammy’s, “It’s all the dancing over the years,” Luv told the New York Jewish Week. “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.”

Dining at Sammy’s Roumanian, said Zimmerman, “is like a Jewish, live ‘Seinfeld’ episode.”

“It kind of fills the void of every generation,” he said. “The older generation feels that the younger generation is losing that nostalgia sometimes, and they feel a naches [Yiddish for “pride”]. They feel good. Bringing the younger generation what they grew up on, and to see them enjoying it, brings them pride and joy. And it just keeps on going on from generation to generation.”

There will be two Passover seatings at Sammy’s Roumanian (112 Stanton St.), at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on April 22 and 23. For reservations call (646) 410-2427.