The 21 Club, or known to those who frequent it simply as ’21,’ is not just a New York City icon; it’s a historical representation of American History in one location.
Originally owned by Jack Kreinder and Charlie Berns and their families, the ’21’ opened its original doors in Greenwich Village at 88 Washington Place in 1922. Jack and Charlie moved the club in 1926 to the Rockefellar Center area and renamed it, specifically, at 42 West 49th street.
During this time, the speakeasy was given many different names to confuse those federal tax men.
January 1, 1930 marked the opening day of the current location at 21 west 52nd street where a rich history of Celebrities, Horse Jockeys, Food, Drink and, of course, Prohibition.
Decor and Art
A saloon of the Prohibition Era, ’21’ boasts a disappearing bar and secret wine cellar, which served to hide liquor during frequent raids. The secret wine cellar also includes camouflaged doors, invisible chutes, revolving bars and chutes, cleverly not located in building 21 at all. You can find this cellar in building 19, making it easier to hide the evidence during the frequent raids.
In more recent history, the cellar has housed 2,000 cases of wine, including the private collections of Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Mae West, Eva Gabor and Aristotle Onassis. Today, it’s filled with some of the finest wines in the world, including Montrachet 1898, Petrus 1982, Romanee-Conti 1880 and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.
87 years later this cellar continues to serve as a historic party room where guests enter through a private door and cross through the kitchen to enter what is termed one of “the most coveted private dining rooms in the world.”
The prestige of art at ’21’ is substantiated with one of the largest private collections of paintings and bronzes by the American West artist Frederic Remington (1861-1909) boasting over 25 original pieces displayed in the foyer, lounge and the popular Remington Room. During the Great Depression when customers had difficulty paying their bar tabs some paid with Remington works. Time proved the smarter choice would have been to keep the Remingtons, but I digress…
The Puncheon Room and Gallery are distinguished by an impressive collection of artwork by McClelland Barclay, Bradford Crandall, James Montgomery Flagg and Henry Koehler.
Cartoons dedicated to ‘21’ from legendary artists such as Walt Disney, Popeye’s Elize Segar, Peter Arno, Bill Gallo, ornament the walls of Pete’s Room and the Bar Room.
Modern day collections feature custom pieces by New York artists Francesca Anderson in the Orchid Room and Wynne Evans in the Upstairs at ‘21’.
Standing guard on the balcony above the entrance to ’21’ is a group of ornamental jockeys, all weighing between 125-150 pounds and made entirely of cast iron, all donated by some of the best-known stables in American thoroughbred racing.
Sportsman, entrepreneur and long-time patron, Jay van Urk, presented ’21’ with its first jockey in the early 1930s, leading to similar donations from the likes of the Vanderbilt, Mellon and Ogden Mills Phipps families. Zayat Stables and American Pharoah were the first to win the Triple Crown in 37 years and three other Triple Crown winners are represented in the ‘21’ jockeys; Calumet Farms 1941 and 1948 and Secretariat 1973.
The Iron Gate
The gate, which adorns the sidewalk of West 52nd street was actually a part of the location at West 49th street. The 49th street bar was short lived, as Jack and Charlie received $11,000 to vacate. They did not want to leave the gate behind, so on opening day in 1930, a few patrons helped unhinge the gate and install it at west 52nd where it remains a trademark of The 21 Club today.
The ceiling-scape of “toys” includes memorabilia, all donated by patrons. There’s a model of a PT-109 torpedo boat from President John F. Kennedy. That alone is impressive, but add the baseball bat from Willie Mays, a replica of Air Force One from President Clinton, tennis racquets from Chris Evert and John McEnroe and a golf club from Jack Nicklaus, and I can not think of one more fabulous display outside of a museum.
In 1936 Jack and Charlie began an exclusive guest book titled, the Iron Gate yearbook, most recently updated in December 2009 to commemorate 80th anniversary, features a tribute to some of the biggest names in sports, literature, television and politics, who frequent or have frequented ’21.’
To download The IronGate 2.0 [click here]
The famous are recognized across generations and include (with favorite table number):
Mary Kate Olsen: table 6
Ernest Hemingway, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and George Bush: table 7.
George Clooney: table 8
Donald Trump: table 11
Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan and Ed Koch: table 14 (and who would not want to see them fight for it?!)
Humphrey Bogart: table 30
Bill Clinton: table 31
Bill Gates: table 42
Harrison Ford: table 56
The ’21’ has been featured in Hollywood history, first in 1950 for the film ‘All About Eve’ starring Anne Baxter, Bette Davis and a woman named Marilyn Monroe, who was unknown at the time. You may also have seen “21” in Wall Street, One Fine Day, The Associate, Sex and the City, and The Apprentice.
Whether you choose Lamb Chops, Chicken Paillard or the Bar Burger from the small bites menu, or the stunning 4-course dinner offering oysters, caviar and Duck a l’Orange ‘Upstairs’ on Friday and Saturday evening, you will not be disappointed.
Current Dress Code
Jeans and sneakers are not permitted anywhere in the club, which of note, was never and is not currently a private club. Gentlemen must wear jackets in the main dining room, Upstairs at ’21’ and the Wine Cellar.
Bar ’21’ and Lounge is business casual, but let’s keep it classy, people.
Of note, ’21’ will be participating in NYC Restaurant Week July 24 to August 18.
Don’t miss this opportunity to check out the ’21’ experience.
Angela Ranieri joins us as Contributing Editor with an extensive background in Fashion, Beauty and Digital Media. She has worked with PRADA USA Corp., Jurlique, Amore Pacific and the New York Daily News in management capacities including Marketing, Client Relations, Employee Relations and Training Management. She has authored and published the column, “Ask Angela,” featured on the Amore Pacific USA website. Her beauty advice has been featured in Shape and Fitness Magazines and CBS News.
She is a graduate of Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Writing. Angela also has an MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from Northeastern University. While at Northeastern, her Market Research on the Electric Car was published for University use.
Angela is currently creator of Circuit Cosmetics, a Brand Ambassador for luxury beauty line, Patchology, an On Air Guest for QVC and blogger for www.thelaughinmommy.blogspot.com.
In her spare time you can find Angela running, spinning, practicing yoga or getting beautified. She resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her Husband, Son, and Chihuahuas.