The 21 Club is a New York institution. A former speakeasy which skirted the prohibition laws in the 1930s, it’s architecture and approach to conceal alcohol was legendary! There was a special chute for discarding liquor into the sewers system and a secret wine cellar in the basement of the building next door (which was concealed with an invisible door in a brick wall). There was even a complex a siren system to warn its patrons of a raid so they could down their drinks before the Feds got in. It was the place to be and the place to be seen (unless you were a law enforcement official). While they were raided frequently, authorities could never catch them in the act selling alcohol.
The Bar Room
I am here to have lunch at the Bar Room. Its a rather unique spot with an expansive collective of toys (ships, boats planes) suspended from the ceiling. Most of these were donated by athletes, politicians (even presidents), celebrities and captains of industry. The dress code requires gentleman to wear jackets to make it a little old school.
The restaurant has its fair share of history and culture; the movie “Wall Street” was shot at 21 along with other TV shows / movies including All About Eve and Sex and the City. The wine cellar has stored the private wine collections of Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Sophia Loren and even Aristotle Onassis. Rupert Murdoch celebrated his purchase of the New York Post here and John F. Kennedy dined here before is inauguration.
There are some favourite tables of high powered diners if you have a seating preference; Table 11 is Donald Trump and Gerald Ford’s table, The Clintons and the Kennedys are partial towards Table 31 and if you’re fan of old blue eyes (Frank Sinatra) he favoured Table 14. If you were Ernest Hemmingway, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger or George H.W. Bush you sit at table 7. I sat at table 29 today which apparently is Alec Baldwin’s favourite table.
The seating is reasonable well spaced out with all tables having red checked table cloths with a white linen covering. There is a mix of beautiful dark brown chairs with red leather cushioning and red leather banquettes which weave around the interior of the restaurant. There is a huge wood bar, wood floors and mahogany walls which exude refinement.
I start with a class of Italian wine and some complementary bread is brought to the table.
Barbera d’Alba “Le Mie Donne” Cascina Adelaide, Piedmonte, Italy
I opt for this wine as I peruse the menu deciding on my selection for lunch. Regrettably the wine is poured at the bar and brought to the table. I always enjoy the bottle being displayed and being poured at the table. Its beautiful flourish of cherries on the nose. On the palate the wine is about eclectic red fruits with hints of saline balsamic notes which linger. There are some nice soft tannins which balance the fruit in the finish.
The ‘21’ Burger
I opt for the 21 Burger. It’s a New York institution as much as the 21 Club.
The patty is simple just a mix of chuck, sirloin and short rib beef with salt and pepper. The rich cheese, pickle relish and red onion with lettuce. The juicy patty combines with the flavour of the tart richness of the cheese, the tangy pickle relish and the bite of the onion. The soft plush bun which encases the burger is fluffy and sweet is absorbs the excess juice to integrate the dish. The chips (served as a mound on the side of the plate) are crisp with a moist centre and the ketchup is up to standard. It is an enjoyable lunch and certainly one of the better burgers out there. I savour every moment and I have to say it is worth it’s US$36 price tag.
Honig, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA
I switch to a Napa Valley wine for the burger. It’s an amazing full bodied wine with wonderful aromas of cassis and red fruit with a sweet spice waft at the edge. On the palate the full fruit flavours of blackberry and raspberry dominate with hints of herbs, sweet spice and coffee lingering. A good bite of toasty oak and soft tannins provide for a beautifully structured wine. It packs a punch and is a perfect match for the burger.
I do a light dessert; the assorted homemade cookies & chocolates with a coffee to finish.
The cookies are soft, milky, doughy with an extreme sweetness. The chocolates are quite good and the coffee is better than most New York coffee, but not quite what I am used to in Europe and Australia.
This is a New York institution. The crowd fills in and the ambiance of the place lightens up. It is quite an experience as the lunch hour draws on. Business is done, negotiations continue, dates are wooed, new connections are made and old acquaintances are reunited. The wine flows (without the secrecy of prohibition) and the chef’s fine fare is enjoyed in a rather historic setting. An enjoyable lunch indeed.