The ’21’ Club.
Just saying the name makes you feel a little more sophisticated. More polished. A man or woman of the world.
Few restaurants have that kind of aura—the kind that influences you down to your toes. Speaking of which: Jeans and sneakers are not permitted, and jackets are necessary for the gentlemen, in the Bar Room, Upstairs at ‘21’, and even in the Cocktail Lounge & Wine Cellar.
Yeah, it’s that kind of place.
At the same time, in my experience with the ‘21’ Club, it was unpretentious and comfortable. Perhaps because my host was a regular, or perhaps simply because “old money” has more manners than the nouveau riche.
The building housing the ‘21’ Club has a history dating back to 1871, when the brownstown homes were designed and built. It was in1929, four years before the official end of the Prohibition Era, that the space became home to a speakeasy and restaurant. For a complete history, check their website or their Wikipedia link (and find out how they hid the evidence during raids). The current decor in the Bar Room includes model trains and planes (strung from the ceiling), checkered tablecloths and Pellegrino served as par for the course.
Whether it’s the idea that history has permeated the walls, or whether it’s the stories, going to the ‘21’ Club feels a little bit like you are getting away with something. One thing is for sure—you won’t leave without having tasted some great food.
For starters, we tried the frites casserole as an appetizer, simply because we couldn’t miss the puffy oblong potatoes prepared like nowhere else. They are cut fries that are prepared in a Dutch oven, covered with peanut oil, then cooked basically until they float. The frites are then served with ‘21’ Sauce, which is essentially a spicy ketchup that appealed even to the non-ketchup lover in our group.
We also sampled the rolls, which had currants and a great flavor, making them a stand out that obviously helps the restaurant maintain its upscale reputation. Kudos to Executive Chef John Greeley for understanding the importance of the details.
Our party ordered a variety of menu items—all of them what they call “’21’ Classics.” Our choices ranged from the Dover Sole, offered grilled or sautéed and served with white and green asparagus and a delicious Champagne sauce, to the famous ‘21’ Burger on a toasted Parker house bun, garnished with frisée, preserved tomatoes, sautéed onions, and haricots verts. We had the “Speakeasy” Steak Tartare, served with mixed greens and a Champagne vinaigrette, plus rye toast, and the house-recommended Creamy Chicken Hash with an unforgettable Mornay sauce, Bloomsdale spinach, Gruyère crust, and toast points. Any one of them would be well worth a return visit.
To finish, we doubled up on the soufflé (which needs to be ordered in advance), and had both the chocolate and the Grand Marnier. One bite of chocolate . . . one bite of Grand Marnier . . . not sure which is the best . . . better have another bite of each. The chocolate is made with Valrona chocolate, served with citrus poached apricots and vanilla bean ice cream, if that helps you understand the tough call.
The ‘21’ Club offers a Prix Fixe menu that helps make the selections a little easier, but this is a time-proven menu and you really can’t go wrong. That is, unless Prohibition returns. And, even then, they can hide the evidence.
For recipes, click here.