Donohue’s Steak House, the favorite East Side neighborhood haunt of Jimmy Fallon, Matt Lauer — and Bernie Madoff until he had to relocate — narrowly cheated death this week, just as its owner was about to shut it down after 67 years.
Owner Maureen Donohue-Peters and her landlord have agreed on terms of a new, 10-year lease for the beloved institution at 845 Lexington Ave., after a year of negotiations had led to an impasse.
Although no one knew of the backstage drama, Donohue’s was just days from serving its last Maryland turkey with cranberry sauce. “I would have been heartbroken” to close on June 30, said Donohue-Peters, a granddaughter of original owner Martin Donohue.
So would customers, famous and unknown, who flock to the cozy confines for broiled steaks and chops, and a burger that’s been celebrated by Eater.com as a “midcentury classic.”
Donohue’s, opened in 1950, is a time capsule of Eisenhower-era Manhattan with wood-paneled walls, a checkerboard tile floor and red tablecloths. US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and former top cop Bill Bratton and his wife, Rikki Kleiman, have been spotted in black-leather booths. All walks of life mingle easily at a moodily lit bar at the front of the house.
Two years ago, The Post reported that longtime lunch customer Robert Ellsworth, a wealthy art collector, left $50,000 each to Donohue-Peters and to Maureen Barrie — one of Donohue-Peters’ five nieces, who “all work different nights” as waitresses, she said.
But the place seemed bound for the same fate that’s claimed many other beloved eateries over lease issues — including Gino’s, the red-sauce spot that stood across the avenue from Donohue’s and closed in 2010.
Donohue-Peters and her lawyer, mansion-owning mogul Kenneth Laub — “I’m the richest pro bono lawyer in New York,” he joked — said the new lease is $22,000 a month for the 1,200-square-foot restaurant, a modest increase over previous terms.