In 1929 Jack Kriendler and Charlie Berns purchased a house on West 52nd Street and opened the ’21’ Club. Soon afterward it becomes the epicenter of New York’s social life. So much so, that in 1930 Daily Mirror gossip columnist Walter Winchell (the inspiration for the “Sweet Smell of Success” character J.J. Hunsecker) is banned from ‘21’. As retribution, he runs a column noting that ‘21’ had never been raided by Prohibition agents. The next day, ’21’ is raided. Soon thereafter, Jack and Charlie hire architect Frank Buchanan to install a complex system to hide and destroy liquor in case of future raids, including the infamous ‘21’ Wine Cellar. 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is nicknamed “Swing Street” and is home to over 30 speakeasies. December 5, 1933: Prohibition is repealed. 1944: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall celebrate their first date at Table 30. They first work together in “To Have and Have Not”, written by another ’21’ regular, Ernest Hemingway (who was caught doing the nasty with gangster Legs Diamond’s girlfriend in the ’21’ kitchen in 1931). Notable writers frequenting ’21’ at the time include Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Lillian Hellman. ’21’ becomes THE place to be seen. Hollywood and ’21’ fully engage in a mutualistic relationship, feeding off each other (literally). Scenes for the classic films “All About Eve” and “The Sweet Smell of Success” are filmed in the bar room and countless other films mention ’21’. In fact more movies mention ’21’ than any other restaurant en NYC. Every President since FDR has been a guest of ’21’ with one exception: George W. Bush (I’m liking this place more and more). In contrast, JFK dined at ’21’ on the eve of his inauguration. In 1980 ’21’ spawns the power lunch. Forbes says “more deals are done at ’21’ than on the stock market floor.” Part of the movie “Wall Street” is filmed in the restaurant.
As for the 2 decorative stand out features of the 21 club: the jockeys and the toys: Jockeys: 21′ was home to the affluent ‘horsy’ set as far back as the early 1930s. To impart their personal stamp, many breeders began donating jockeys as symbols of their private horse farms. Today, many of the brightly painted jockey figures represent the country’s most prominent stables. It all began with Delaware native Jay Van Urk, such a loyal patron that he had, in fact, his own private table and the distinction of having a ’21’ dessert named in his honor. as for the Toys that hang from the ceiling: Perhaps the most poignant item in the collection is a model of the PT-109, presented as a gift to ’21’ by John F. Kennedy. ’21’ has such a large collection of sporting souvenirs that the Bar Room is a virtual Hall of Fame. Diners can view the helmets of football legends Frank Gifford and John Riggins, rackets of tennis stars Chris Evert and John McEnroe, Katarina Witt’s figure skates, a golf club that once belonged to Jack Nicklaus, and baseball bats from fabled heroes Willie Mays and Joe Morgan.
That pretty much sums it up, but if you ask the very chatty bathroom attendant I am sure she would be happy to elaborate.
Its the ’21’ pricey? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! (but you might want to wait to restaurant week when a pre fix dinner is $35 or just come for a drink at the bar)
Dress Code: Strictly no sneakers, shorts or jeans. Jackets are necessary for gentlemen, with ties preferred at dinner.
Hours Mon-Fri, 11:30am-10pm; Sat, 5pm-11pm; Sun, closed
21 W. 52nd St., nr. Fifth Ave., NY 10019 212-582-1400