Monday, October 3, 2011

Smith & Wollensky: Mr. Smith Goes

Dining in New York you'll find something missing from the iconic Smith and Wollensky sign
By Mitch Broder

When Smith & Wollensky asked me to eat a steak on their billboard, I did it for them. So when I asked them to replace their “Smith” with my “Broder,” I imagined they’d do it for me.

And they’re giving me a shot. Then again, they’re giving you the same shot. And you didn’t even eat creamed spinach on their billboard.

Smith & Wollensky is a steakhouse at Third Avenue and 49th Street, except that it has ousted Smith, not that he ever existed. The restaurant’s founder, Alan Stillman, picked both names out of a phone book, leaving him free to eradicate either of them without being tweeted to death.

There are many steakhouse options when dining in New York, but could you give them all up but one
So in its most ego-seducing stunt since the billboard, the restaurant is offering customers a chance to see their names replace Smith’s for an entire day this month. Presumably after that, Smith will return, since it’s getting pretty hard these days to get your hands on a phone book.

The winning customers get their names not just on the outdoor signs, but also on the menus, matchbooks, napkins, business cards, and waiters’ jackets. On this first day, for example, the restaurant is Fleiss & Wollensky. When you call, they answer, “Fleiss & Wollensky.” Still, Fleiss has to pick up his check.

If you call tomorrow, I am told, you will hear “Ritenour & Wollensky.” And Ritenour will be the name on the signs and all the other stuff. It’s a vanity bonanza. Naturally, it has great appeal to me — just as the billboard had great appeal to me. All I seek is glory.

In the summer of 2001, the restaurant had a billboard that looked like the restaurant, high above Broadway and 54th Street. In front of it was a platform with a table and chairs. As a member of the press I was invited to eat there. As I revealed last week, I can be bought for a three-dollar cookie, so there was never any question that I’d take a steak dinner.

I had to go to the roof with the billboard, where I was clipped into a rock-climbing harness and handed waiver forms, which I signed because I never jump on a full stomach. I climbed the metal steps to the platform, where I sat on a nailed-down chair at the nailed-down table and was served dinner by a waiter named Angelo whose jacket said “Tim.”

I had shrimp cocktail, sirloin steak, creamed spinach, hash browns, Snapple Iced Tea, and cheesecake with raspberries. But surprisingly, I had little glory. I had expected crowds below, waving. There were no crowds below at all. There was occasional waving, but that may have been to the cheesecake.

Still, I wrote about the night for the nation’s largest newspaper chain, giving Smith & Wollensky the chance to make back the cost of my meal over time. I’ve always figured they owe me, so I asked to be Smith for a day. They said I could — if I apply like everyone else. I was going to mention Angelo but I thought better of it.

So like everyone else, I had to go online and pledge to eat at no steakhouse but Smith & Wollensky for the rest of my life.

Between us, I may not keep the pledge even if I win. But who cares? After all, what good is journalistic integrity if you can’t sell it?

Be the Smith at Smith & Wollensky, Third Avenue at 49th Street, New York City.


  1. Very interesting way to do marketing! Thanks Mitch!

  2. A real "sign of the times"... People aren't interested in anything unless their name is connected to it in some way.

  3. Tell Mr. Stillman to change the name to Broder & Broder. Forget Wollensky.