Iwalked New York City’s 21 Club - 21 Club is a former speak-easy and current trendy restaurant. It is owned by Orient-Express Hotels and contains the Bar Room downstairs and more exclusive Upstairs at ‘21’. The Bar Room features a mass of sports memorabilia and other “toys” including a football helmet from Frank Gifford, tennis rackets from John McEnroe and Chris Evert, a baseball bat from “Say Hey” Willie Mays, a golf club from Jack Nicklaus, and an airplane model that once belonged to former president John F. Kennedy. Upstairs diners may select from a delectable menu that includes the like of $30 hamburgers or a seven-course tasting menu in the secret Wine Cellar room.
|New York City’s 21 Club|
The club received its reputation as a top-notch speak-easy in 1930s during the Prohibition era. The booze which was sold at ‘21’ was snuck up from Florida and hidden within the car’s fender during the journey. When a Daily Mirror gossip columnist was banned in 1930, he attempted to extract a bit of revenge and wrote about expected illegal alcohol sales at the club. Within twenty-four hours of the article being published, a raid was scheduled for ’21’. Ill-prepared on this occasion, the two cousins ensured that in the event that they were raided again, the police would find no traces of alcohol on the premises.
After the Feds raid in 1930, Jack and Charlie hired architect Frank Buchanen to construct them a discrete wine cellar door where all alcohol would be stored. Buchanen built a hidden door within a brick wall that was further obscured via a series of shelves. The door, to ensure it appeared as solid as the surrounding wall, was designed to weigh some two-and-a-half tons and could also only be opened with an 18” wire that could reach the door’s hidden lock. Perhaps the most ingenious element of the wine cellar though was the fact that it was built into the premises of the neighboring building (which ‘21’ rented at the time). Thus when the club was interrogated as to whether alcohol was on the premises they could answer in complete honestly that there was not.
The first significant test as to the secrecy of the wine cellar did not have to wait long as Federal agents once again raided the club in June 1932. This time, being well prepared, the owners had sufficient time to hide all alcohol when the doorman notified them via an internal alarm that agents were awaiting to enter the premise. Despite searching the site for over two hours, the agents this time left empty handed and a bit baffled.
Passersby of ’21,’ even if they are unable to afford a delectable dinner here, are prone to stop outside to admire its famous colorful statuary of lawn jockeys attached to the restaurant’s second story balcony. In total there are thirty-three statues outside (and actually two additional ones inside the front door) that represent famous horse stables and farms from around the country. The first statue was donated by Jay Van Urk in the 1930s and other breeders have since followed suit by presenting similar statues to ’21’.
For many of the reasons listed thus far, ‘21’ is a popular locale for both celebrities and film makers alike. On the restaurant’s website you can find celebrity endorsement where past visitors tell some interesting tales of their most memorable ‘21’ memory. One I personally enjoyed was a tale by former NFL quarterback Archie Manning who spoke of his family having dinner here both nights before the NFL draft when his sons Peyton and Eli were selected as number one draft picks. Here you can also read about how every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has graced its interior, less one (who we’ll let you research on your own via their website if you are truly intrigued). One famous actor even worked here for a period of time behind the hat check counter, and that was Warren Oates (who played Sergeant Hulka in the 1981 Bill Murray comedy Stripes). As to movies that have filmed here, the list is quite extensive but to name a few they have included the likes of Wall Street and Sex and the City.
- Website: http://www.21club.com/web/onyc/21_club.jsp
- Address: 21 West 52nd Street, New York City, NY
- Cost: Free