The usual restaurant review coverage of any old neighborhood favorite about to close involves a lot of hand-wringing – I’m sure if it was one of my favorite restaurants, I’d be doing the same thing. In this case, though, I can’t – not because the burger at McHale’s isn’t stellar, and not because the place itself isn’t worthy of continued existence (it is, in both cases). It’s just that I might never have heard of the place if it wasn’t for the coverage of its closing. Oh, the irony.
Located at 46th and 8th, McHale’s first announces its offbeat charm with a sign at the door proclaiming a minimum age of entrance – 23. We weren’t carded at lunch hour, but it’s an interesting concept – “keeping out the 21 and 22 year olds certainly would cut down on the sparkly tube top crowd,” noted my girlfriend. There were no bellybuttons on display that we saw, and, actually, few women besides the wait staff. The faux-wood paneling, the black and white pictures of hockey players, and the well-worn booth cushioning point to a very male and very heavyset clientele – the burgers, too, point to the latter.
The McHale’s burger ($8) is CD-sized and an inch thick, and, unlike most bar burger places, McHale’s overcooks the burger a grade or less (i.e., when medium rare is ordered, a medium burger emerges, at worst). The bun isn’t remarkable, or strong enough to sop up both grease and toppings, but with a burger this big, you don’t want to fill up on bread. It’s a fantastic and delicious hunk of ground beef, falling somewhere in between the melt-in-your-mouth Corner Bistro burger and the more charred Shake Shack burger.
The burger comes with a generous portion of steak fries (fairly forgettable), lettuce, tomato, and onion, and for a quarter more, you can select the cheese of your choice – go stinky, with the gruyere, or standard (as I did) with a generous heap of melted cheddar.
As I was eating my burger and chatting with my roommate and girlfriend (both of whom work far closer to McHale’s than I do and proclaimed that, if it wasn’t closing, they’d go back regularly for lunch), I tried to spy a bit on the crowd. There was the nearly-hunchbacked old man drinking whisky at the bar – peaked cap on his head. In the booth next to us, marked “reserved,” another older gent seemed to be selling cut rate cigarettes – a miniature chest of drawers served as a source for matches for a few different patrons.
A group of women, seemingly tourists, walked in as we were walking out. As the hostess informed them that the burger had won several awards, including one guide’s best in NYC designation, they hesitated – perhaps overwhelmed by the atmosphere, physical or otherwise (the loudest belch I’ve ever heard in a restaurant was emitted from the region of the bar not long before the women walked in). In the new New York, and particularly in the new Midtown, places like McHale’s are a dying breed. Check it out, while you still can (apparently they’re open through the rest of December), and get a glimpse of Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown circa 1975, with a side of great ground beef.