Steeped in rumour, the 35 jockeys lining the ‘21’ entrance are one of Manhattan’s most iconic sights. They point back to the restaurant's rich equestrian history.
Trainer Bob Baffert of Zayat Stables and jockey Victor Espinoza dined at ‘21’ a few nights before the Belmont Stakes. Little did they know that their return would be as guests of honour. A party was held to celebrate the unveiling of Zayat's colours above the entrance to the restaurant when their horse American Pharaoh galloped to victory.
There are many stories circulating around the frequently-photographed jockey statues at ‘21’. Some say they represent real riders. Others contend that they have a link to New York’s The Jockey Club, a private organisation founded in 1894. Yet more argue they’re just idle decoration. The truth is far more interesting.
It all began with Delaware native J. Blan van Urk. A true ‘regular’. He had his own private table and the distinction of having a '21' dessert named in his honour. Sometime during the '30s, van Urk donated the first jockey to his haunt as a token of his appreciation. A '21' tradition was born.
Over the years, some of America's most famous breeders and owners have followed in van Urk's footsteps. They include patrons from the Vanderbilt, Mellon and Ogden Mills Phipps families, as well as the Galbreath clan, owners of Darby Dan Farms. Today, many of the brightly painted figures represent the country's most prominent stables.
In addition, there is a jockey dedicated to Secretariat, the greatest racehorse of all time. Two jockeys are also posted inside of '21's front door—a tribute, and a welcome to equestrians and racing enthusiasts everywhere.
The Kentucky Derby
Racing is in the bones of ‘21’, and in 2013 the club honoured the noble sport with a traditional Kentucky Derby party at Bar ‘21’. The celebration saw guests in their finest hats and seersucker suits. They sipped Mint Juleps and feasted on Southern-inspired snacks, including ‘hot browns’, cornmeal-fried oysters and pecan pie. The races were played on special flat screen televisions, brought out just for the occasion. The turnout was twice what was expected, and many guests asked there and then if they could reserve their seats for 2014.
The Kentucky Derby party is held every May.