Heard of the 21 Club, or just “21” as it is often known? you probably have, and if you haven’t you have probably seen it or heard of it in one of the 40 or so films and TV series it has featured or been referenced in. 21 Club is a New York icon.
It is one of the last remaining original New York “Speakeasies”. It opened in 1930 at 21 West 52nd Street and was raided many times during the prohibition period, although the owners were apparently never caught. A system of levers was used to tip the shelves of the bar so that the bottles of booze would slide down a chute and into the city’s sewers if a police raid was underway. The Club also had a secret wine cellar located (and still located) in the basement of the neighbouring building (which was previously accessed through a hidden door in a brick wall). 21 is also a haunt for movies stars, Presidents and celebrities (although apparently President Obama hasn’t yet made it in).
It is a quite astonishing place, from the outside’s famous Jockey statues (sadly away for a clean when we visited, so the photo above is not mine) and its famous wrought iron gates, to the downstairs bar’s ceiling – completely covered with suspended toys and sporting memorabilia donated by the many stars that have dined there. It is strange and fascinating and you really do feel like you eating on a movie set, and taking part in just a little bit of New York, and American, history.
We booked our reservation from the UK and I really wish I had done a bit more research, as I would have requested a tour of the amazing wine cellar (and it must be amazing as, not only has it won no end of awards, the wine “menu” is, without a doubt, the longest I have ever seen, it is actually a book, at least a 100 pages long, when we asked for the wine menu I thought he was handing us the Visitor’s Book by mistake…). Apparently, if there are no private parties in the cellar you can request a tour, but I didn’t know this…..maybe next time….
A little more research would also have enabled me to understand the significance of the table we were offered…..
We arrived for lunch on a wonderful hot and sunny New York summer’s day and were warmly greeted by the door reception staff. She noted our reservation, welcomed us to New York and then I got the distinct impression we were being checked out. The beautifully turned-out lady on the desk turned to her colleague and said very forcibly, “Table 30?”….he looked us up and down, “Yes” he said “Table 30”.
Now, 21 Club has a clear dress code, jackets for men, no “sneakers”, no jeans, and they have only just stopped insisting on a tie, so I did wonder if I had suddenly made a fashion faux pas and we were about to placed at a table at the back next to the toilets.
Before I go on, let me just say that 21 Club is not cheap. Not at all cheap. I am not going to list the prices, as you are paying for some pretty nice food and an unbeatable piece of New York history. All I will say is, don’t go there with less than a few hundred dollars in your pocket. But do go there. We loved it.
We ordered a Hendricks and a Plymouth gin to start and half bottles of Sancerre and Rioja with the mains. I am no wine buff, but next time I will mortgage the garden shed and treat myself to something really special.
I started with West Coast Oysters, husband had Clayton’s Jumbo Lump Crabmeat with mustard sauce and daughter had a Mozzarella and Tomato stack. I have eaten a lot of oysters (I chose extra Oysters over the clams), I love Oysters. These were the best oysters I have eaten, they were small and sweet and I was tempted to order another half dozen. Actually, I was tempted to order a bucket-load. They were sublime. The crabmeat was wonderful, and huge for a starter.
For mains, husband had the Speakeasy Steak Tartare with mesclun greens, truffle vinaigrette and toast points which he declared amazing, daughter had Faroe Islands Salmon with sorrel cream, fingerling potatoes and leek ribbons which she loved and I had the famous Dover Sole with a lemon beurre blanc and asparagus – sauteed not fried (sorry, not a great picture!). For sides we had creamed spinach and Pommes Soufflees. The Pommes Souffles were to die for – new challenge is to work out how to make these at home!
For dessert, the daughter had Chocolate Caramel Pie with candied pocorn, peanut butter caramel and chocolate ice cream, the husband and I had a choice of 5 American Cheeses and all of it was superb. To accompany the cheese I had a Taylor Tawny Port.
21 Club is a great restaurant. All our dishes were either good or fantastic, but it is more than that, it is a real New York experience, you really do feel you are living a bit of history, a bit of all those movies you grew up with. We had a lovely time, the service was excellent and not too stuffy, we were made very welcome. Thank you, guys.
Oh, and Table 30? Apparently Table 30 is the most requested table at 21 Club. It is known as “Bogie’s corner” and is the table where Humphrey Bogart had his first date with Lauren Bacall. She still pops in, apparently, to check the little plaque is still there. All I can think is we must scrub up well!