You know the “21 Club,” right? You’ve driven by it a hundred times…wondered what it would be like inside? I’ve wondered too. Lunch with a friend provided the excuse to find out.
The restaurant has a long history, briefly chronicled in a recent William Grimes Q&A on the New York Times website. It actually started as a dive bar in the Village called the Red Head (no relation to the current restaurant by that name). The present incarnation is anything but a dive; in fact, it has some of the highest à la carte prices of any restaurant in the city.
It is not actually a “Club,” but it has a clubby feel. Most of the patrons seemed to be old-money regulars, whom the host greeted warmly. But they’re also mostly over 60, and therein lies the problem. Who will dine here twenty years from now? In a bid to attract the younger generation, last year, “21” stopped requiring neckties for gentlemen. Restaurants much fancier than “21” stopped doing so years ago. Jackets remain de rigeur, and most of the customers still wear ties anyway.
The space is cozy and comfortable, but in fact, not all that fancy. (I should clarify that we dined in the downstairs “bar room”; there is a more formal upstairs dining room that I have not seen.)
Prices are at nosebleed levels, with appetizers $15–24 and entrées $30–42. Prices are the same at dinner, but a few extra (more expensive) entrées are available. The website touts a lunch prix fixe at $30, but it was not offered to us.
My friend recommended the burger—famous enough that the Times has printed the recipe twice (here, here). It was a large, beefy mass, slightly over-cooked but still very good. The shoestring fries that came with it were perfect. But it’s $30, and I’ve had better ones at half the price.
The kitchen accommodated our request to share a Caesar Salad ($18); even after it was divided, there was plenty for each of us. A plate of cookies afterwards was free. Sodas were served in the bottle ($6 apiece), but there was no charge for a refill.
Still, $90 before tax and tip is an awful lot for salads and burgers. I won’t be rushing back.
21 Club (21 W. 52nd Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, West Midtown)