Keen is not the place to bring her if you’re “just friends.”
The first floor dining room features candlelit tables for two under a coral–reef chandelier, surrounded by deep blue walls and blonde driftwood accents that give the place an undersea romantic feel. However, that’s not to say it’s old–fashioned—the place has a colorful, funky vibe and a vintage condom dispenser in the men’s room. The bar in the next room has a similar ambiance, with jewel–tone lighting refracted around the room from suspended crystals.
Upstairs there’s another bar, where the vibe is more laid back. The second floor features a lounge area complete with couches, larger tables, a shelf of board games, and a retro Pac–Man machine. The whole place is pristine, well–curated, and not too loud, with an American comfort food menu created “with Grandmas everywhere in mind.”
The music is eclectic too, the soundtrack equivalent of American comfort food. We hear “Africa” by Toto played unironically, followed by “Piano Man,” a few country songs, “American Pie,” and “Dream On” by Aerosmith. The waitresses sing a little when they think no one is listening.
We begin the night with a Keen Mule—a classic Moscow Mule served in a sleek cooper cup, enlivened with a hint of cranberry syrup and mint for garnish. The cranberry flavor adds balance and depth, smoothing the taste of the vodka without cloaking it.
The Sexy Salad features crisp greens, squash cubes, broccoli cooked just right, and freshly ground pepper. For six dollars more, I add shrimp—unremarkable but a good addition. I finish the salad not completely sure what’s sexy about it, but it hits the spot.
We are encouraged to try Keen’s burger selection, which consists of one item, named, creatively, burger. Turns out they don’t need more than one on the menu: this one is juicy enough to skip the ketchup, served with melting sharp white cheddar and a side of fresh–cut fries. While it’s not an overwhelmingly large burger, the signature house sauce will win you over (we want the recipe!). The only drawback: it came a little more well–done than we wanted.
We move on to Keen’s more unusual menu items, ordering the maple–glazed brussels. The sprouts come in a small portion size, but they pack a punch. Maple syrup sweet, then salty, then vegetable–y—too powerful to finish in one sitting. If you’re looking for something equally as unusual, though perhaps less intense, try out their candied bacon, Pig Candy.
We finish with the crème brûlée, perfectly light and creamy, just like we imagine Grandma would make it.
TL;DR: Keen’s smaller menu is temporary (with many new additions—including Sunday brunch—coming this spring), but in the meantime, come for a first date, a Pac–Man tournament, or both.
Location: 1708 Lombard Street
Tuesday–Sunday: 5 p.m.–11 p.m.