Introduction | About the Jockeys | About the Toys | Secret Wine Cellar | Timeline | 21 Trivia Challenge
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January 17, 1920: The Eighteenth Amendment goes into effect beginning the Prohibition Era.
1922: To earn night school tuition, cousins Jack Kriendler and Charlie Berns open their first speakeasy, The Red Head, in NYC’s Greenwich Village. They attract the collegiate crowd. At the time, Jack is a pharmacy student at Fordham; Charlie's at NYU’s School of Commerce (he finishes his degree). Future journalist/screenwriter/producer Mark Hellinger is their cashier.
1923: Jack and Charlie open Club Fronton at 88 Washington Place. Among the Fronton’s notable patrons: NYC Mayor James J. Walker and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.
1926: Jack and Charlie move the business uptown to 42 West 49th Street because condemnation proceedings start to make way for a subway around Washington Place. They name their new bistro The Puncheon, but (partly to confuse the federal tax men) it is also known as The Puncheon Grotto, Grotto, 42, 42 Club, Jack and Charlie’s, and Keyburn Club (its name when raided).
1928: Rockefeller Center is planned, and Jack and Charlie receive $11,000 from landowner Columbia University to vacate #42. They purchase a house on West 52nd Street, and spend the next year converting it into a speakeasy and restaurant. It had previously been a bordello owned by Hildegarde Adler.
December 31, 1929 - January 1, 1930: With the help of their patrons, Jack and Charlie unhinge the wrought iron gate that had been the portal to #42, and install it three blocks north at 21 West 52nd Street. They open Jack and Charlie’s '21' Club in the wee hours.
1930: Daily Mirror gossip columnist Walter Winchell (the inspiration for 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, now considered one of the world’s most coveted private dining rooms.
52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is nicknamed "Swing Street" and is home to over 30 speakeasies.
1931: A model of the British Airways "flying boat" is the first corporate toy hung from the '21' ceiling. Today, hundreds of corporate logo toys, sports memorabilia and other mementos form a ceiling-scape, including a model of the PT-109 donated by President John F. Kennedy, a smashed tennis racquet from John McEnroe, Jackie Gleason’s pool cue from The Hustler, and mics from every NYC-based television and radio station.
Jack purchases 19 West 52nd Street; in 1935, its lower floor becomes an addition to '21'.
1932: '21' is raided again in June when ten federal agents knock on the door. Doorman Jimmie Coslove squints through the peephole and, seeing the officers, activates a secret alarm that alerts management that a raid is imminent. The officers then burst in, and ransack the building, looking for liquor. After hours of searching the premises - closets, rooms, attic, basement - agents admit defeat and leave without finding the two thousand cases of contraband that is hidden downstairs.
The great mystery as to why the agents never found the liquor? '21's secret Wine Cellar, built to be invisible. Behind several smoked hams (in the Wine Cellar) that hung from the basement ceiling and a wall filled with shelves of canned goods, stood a perfectly camouflaged two-and-one-half ton door that appeared to be part of the wall. Only opened by inserting a slender 18" length of wire through one of the many cracks in the cement wall, would the secret door silently slide back to reveal '21's most coveted treasure: two thousand cases of wine.
As a matter of record, '21's wine cellar was, and still is, in 19 West 52nd Street. When first opened, Jack and Charlie did not own the building at 19 West 52nd Street, they just borrowed the cellar. Because of this, when employees were asked by the feds if there was liquor on the premises, they could truthfully answer "No, sir!"
Another '21' legend: during Prohibition, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker had a private booth in a corner of the cellar, where he would go to have a cocktail in peace as the feds were raiding the premises above for contraband. Mayor Walker's booth has been preserved, and can be viewed today by diners who can enjoy a seven-course tasting menu served with the finest wines under decidedly more favorable circumstances.
December 5, 1933: Prohibition is repealed.
1934: Charlie creates '21' Brands, a liquor importing/distilling/distributing company; its first salesman is then-aspiring actor David Niven.
Late 30s: The first jockey is donated by patron Jay Van Urk. In 1992, a jockey is stolen, making page 2 news of the NY Post. The next day, a ‘21’ regular was glancing outside his office window overlooking Washington Square Park, spotted the jockey in a shopping cart, and phoned police. In 2004, there are 33 jockeys; the most recent from Sackatoga Stables representing the great NY horse, Funny Cide, winner of 2003’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness races.
Christmas 1938: The Salvation Army Band hosts a holiday sing-a-long for '21' patrons. This annual tradition continues today.
1940: Two Kriendler brothers are off to war: Mac to England as a colonel in the Army, affiliated with the Air Force in England, and Bob to the Pacific (subsequently bestowed with the Legion of Merit Medal for Outstanding Services at Iwo Jima) with the Marines. Jack is a Marine Corps Reservist.
1944: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall get engaged at Table 30. They first work together in To Have and Have Not, written by another '21' regular, Ernest Hemingway (who was caught making love to 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.
1945: Spellbound hits theatres and is one of the earliest films to feature/mention '21' Club. According to Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal, authors of Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco, Mr. Hitchcock had a long-standing connection to the '21' Club. Starting with his first trip to the United States from England in the late 1930s, he was a regular patron of the restaurant throughout his life.
According to prevailing myth, Hitchcock was particularly fond of '21' Club’s steak with fries, followed by an ice cream parfait. Hitchcock may have met and dined there with another regular Salvador Dali, who was often seen adjusting his waxed mustache, drumming his gold-headed cane on the floor, and celebrating commissions he accrued while lunching at '21'. Hitchcock and Dali collaborated during the making of the movie Spellbound, staring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. In the film's Dali-designed dream sequence, there is a cinematic reference to the '21' Club.
1946: Walter Weiss comes to work for '21' as a waiter ultimately becoming "the legendary Maitre'd" according to his NY Times obituary. Ultimately responsible for which celebrity or VIP sat where, nobody 'dressed a room' like Mr. Weiss. His much beloved successor is Oreste Carnevali, who came to ‘21’ in 1994 from the Four Seasons.
1947: Jack Kriendler dies at age 48 of a coronary thrombosis.
1950: In 1950, the famous '21' burger is $2.75. By 1987, it’s the most famous burger in NYC and costs $21. Now in 2005, it’s $30. Famous fans of the ‘21’ burger include Donald Trump (well-done) and President Jimmy Carter. The late Ari Onassis would have one nearly every time he visited '21'.
1957: Hollywood comes to '21' and shoots scenes for the classic films 'All About Eve' and 'The Sweet Smell of Success'.
1960: Every President since FDR has been a guest of '21' with the one exception of George W. Bush. In true fashion, JFK dined at '21' on the eve of his inauguration.
In 1970: Charlie Berns passes away at age 69 from a heart attack.
1980: Wall Street Boom. '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.
1985: '21' is sold for the first time to financier Marshall Cogan. Patrons hold their collective breath as it closes for a massive refurbishment. Four months later '21' re-opens to rapturous praise - it looks the same, and feels the same. It's still '21'.
1995: '21' is sold to Orient-Express Hotels. It is fitting that new owner, James Sherwood, is known for acquiring properties that represent what is best and authentic about the world's greatest cities.
1997 : The famous Wine Cellar is remodeled, becoming one of the most sought-after private dining rooms in the city. Patrons enter through the now famous brick wall "door" that the Feds never found.
2002: The new Upstairs at '21' restaurant opens on the first floor to great acclaim. It is hailed as 'the most romantic restaurant in the city, a heartfelt love song to New York'.
2004: On December 31st '21' celebrates its 75th birthday.