From the “21” website:
“Over three-quarters of a century ago, Congress passed the Act that ushered in the Prohibition Era. In New York, as in every American city, ‘speakeasies’ mushroomed, but none was more celebrated than ‘Jack and Charlie’s ’21’, founded by two collegian cousins from the West Side, Jack Kriendler and Charlie Berns.
Although ’21’ was raided more than once, Federal Agents were never able to pin anything on Jack and Charlie. At the first sign of a raid, they would activate an ingenious system of pulleys and levers, which would sweep bottles from the bar shelves and hurl the smashed remains down a chute into the New York sewer system!”
To its credit as a former secret speakeasy, I walked past 21 many times without realizing it was 21. I noticed the statues of jockeys and thought “gee, that’s interesting” and I guess I could’ve noticed the 21 on the lamp post but it’s pretty easy to miss. Like look at these people, do they realize they’re walking past 21?
Mom made a reservation at “21” on Friday and I protested slightly–there were many other places I wanted to try before they left–but I caved in because 21 is such a New York thing I felt I had to try it. It’s located on 52nd between 5th and 6th. Men have to wear jackets and in the summer, that sort of sucks. I rode a bus uptown and got off at 49th street: mom, dad and Michael were already there.
The first thing you notice as you enter 21 is a glass counter with a woman behind it taking reservations. The lobby has the whiff of a country club or a fancy hotel, with some couches near the front windows and computers and telephones. But the staff at 21 is old world courteous: I was immediately led to my family in the downstairs dining room (which is basically the main dining room). The room is incredibly dark. When he asked me to point out my family, I accidentally pointed out a table of Eskimos and I spent the next 30 minutes coming up with new words for “snow.”
The food at 21 is pretty ok and pretty expensive for just being pretty ok. Yet, I think it can be said you don’t go there for the food. You go there for the experience. I wanted to experience the famous 21 burger, which I did:
That’s a mighty mound of meat, no? It tasted like meatloaf and was greatly helped by the grilled onions and the 21 sauce which smacked of horseradish giving everything a nice kick. Here’s a picture of the french fries, though they weren’t really noteworthy:
For dessert, we shared profiteroles. For those who haven’t had them and don’t know what they are think of cream puffs minus the cream, sub ice cream instead and smother it in chocolate sauce.
Not bad, not bad. But the best is yet to come and I’m not talking about the food. I’m talking about the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom. You may have noticed my subtitle: “The filthiest most spotless bathroom in New York.” That’s because the bathroom 21 is beautifully kempt and yet very very dirty. What am I talking about? Check out this mural over the urinals:
Let’s talk about what’s going on in that picture. A man is peeing into a fishbowl and a woman has pulled up her skirt so the water from the fishbowl splashes onto her ass. This begs the question: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN THAT PICTURE?
As if that weren’t enough, check out this mural on the other side:
A woman is crouched over a pot, a dog is sniffing around her and a man is handing her…what? I have no idea.
These murals are funny in a funny because they objectify women sort of way. But it’s old world, so cut them a break. They made my trip to 21 completely worthwhile. Save yourself the expense of lunch, fill your bladder and walk down 52nd street until you see the little jockeymen. The bathrooms are right near the front—experience great hilarity as you pee. And ladies, if you go–bring a camera: I’m curious what’s going on in that ladies room? Maybe there are no toilets, just fish bowls and tiny pots. Ya never know!
4 thoughts on “Get a taste of New York history at 21 (PLUS: The filthiest most spotless bathroom in New York.)”
I think you and your mom are going to have your photos plastered all over the inner offices of restaurants a la Mimi Sheraton … but not for the same reasons.
Hmm… Now I wonder what the ladies washroom looks like!
I think the murals show a vaudeville act. It was a family that did very strange things to each other and their dogs. The name? Why “The Aristocrats” of course! :)
Hmmm – is the first one meant to be a really nasty bidet situation? I don’t even like my own splashback let alone… okay, continuing the rest of that sentence in my head now…
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