A timeless Midtown West enclave
The upscale 21 Club is a New York City institution. Initially a speakeasy in the 1930s during the Prohibition era, this famous Midtown West enclave named for its address, 21 West 52nd Street, is exactly what you hope it will be: an exclusive, sophisticated atmosphere that warmly welcomes you in.
Statues of jockeys in equestrian attire stand guard at the entrance, where tourists pose for photographs in front of the famed “21” historic wrought-iron gate. The regular photo ops have become somewhat of a tradition. Businessmen in suits sitting at the bar acknowledge each other with boisterous camaraderie, handshakes and pats on the back. It’s no wonder that celebrities and all the big names in politics, business, literature and entertainment frequent the 21 Club — it possesses New York-style panache that is timeless. Bartenders treat you as if they've known you for years, greeting newcomers with a familiar smile. On a weekday night you can walk right in, but the place gets busy fast.
21 Club exudes classic, old-fashioned charm without pretension. Similar to the warmth of a neighborhood Italian eatery, the New York City restaurant is inviting and friendly. Composed of three separate areas that altogether can accommodate up to 800 people, 21 Club is sizable. The Bar 21 & Lounge is situated next to the foyer and offers lunch, bar bites and cocktails and beer. The main dining area is the Bar Room, where the option for an à la carte lunch or dinner, a prix fixe lunch or a pre-theater dinner menu is offered. Lastly, Upstairs at 21is an intimate 32-seat restaurant for a four-course tasting or private dining event.
In the Bar Room, colorful “toys” consisting of airplanes, rocket ships, fire engines and sports equipment cover the entire ceiling, adding to an atmosphere that is already brimming with masculinity. The crowd is mixed; expect to see 20-somethings sipping martinis next to tables seated with Wall Street old-timers. This blend may sound a bit out of the ordinary, but it works. Service is prompt and professional.
The menu and cocktail list are contemporary updates of classic American dishes. The bestsellers are 21 Club staples: the 21 burger, crab cake, Clayton’s jumbo lump crabmeat, 21 Caesar salad mixed with housemade dressing and “Speakeasy” steak tartare. With plenty of seafood and game, the 21 Club is the epitome of Americana cuisine.
For an appetizer, the savory grilled quail with heirloom rice and lemon gremolata is perfectly tender with a slight crunch in all the right places. The fusion of yogurt and warm Indian spices provides an excellent balance of flavors. For an entrée, try the potato-wrapped tuna, a pleasant and unusual take on a raw dish. The thinly shredded potato is a soft, hearty rush of flavor just before tasting the seasoned tuna in the same bite. Topped with a Moroccan olive tapenade, chickpeas, snap peas and preserved lemon, the result is citrusy, light and fresh.
Following dinner, try the outstanding bananas Foster. A decadent and large portion fit for two, impeccably flavored flambéed bananas sit beside banana bread and vanilla ice cream. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better rendition of this time-honored dessert.
For cocktails, expect strong, intensely flavored and creative libations. Southern Spice is a sweet and spicy mix of Don Julio Tequila, lime juice and Sriracha syrup (made with honey and white wine), for those who desire a cocktail with a kick. For something a bit lighter, we highly recommend the Orient-Express, with Tanqueray gin, fresh lemon juice and Earl Grey-infused syrup. The Earl Grey is soft and adds a nice touch of heady flavor.
Alternatively, try the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine list, Speakeasy Prohibition Ale or Jack and Charlie’s Ale.
Whichever meal or cocktail you choose, you’ll have an authentic New York experience.