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A parade of iron jockeys in the concrete jungle? These sturdy figures are perhaps what most intrigue visitors when they first approach the ‘21’ Club in Midtown Manhattan. The statues, all gifts from customers past and present, debuted at the restaurant in the late 1930s when entrepreneur, and patron, Jay Blan van Urk presented one to commemorate his love of the establishment. Just like that, a tradition was born.
In the intervening years more jockeys have joined. Beyond being keenly celebrated quirks of ‘21’, as it’s colloquially known, they are reminders of its rich history, totems that link the past to the present. Today, ‘21’ is an icon, an intrinsic part of the fabric of New York and as current and relevant as other New York edifices like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. It’s not a private club despite the name, though it does retain a familial, clubby ambience. To truly appreciate its significance, one needs to cast a light on its earliest days.Download Press Kit
Beyond the constant stream of individuals who keep ‘21’ humming, private dining plays an important role at the restaurant. Its10 exclusive rooms include the unique Prohibition-era Wine Cellar, accessible by a flight of back stairs from the kitchen and a door disguised as a brick wall. With corporate dining a key part of the operation, ‘21’ inhabits the space that bridges business and social realms.
Jockeys continue to be added to the collection, including a newcomer in 2015, when, for the first time in 37 years, a horse won the esteemed Triple Crown race series. The jockeys, mostly wearing the colours of the stables that they represent, are now as inextricably tied to the neighbourhood as ‘21’ itself; in 2015, when they were removed for eight weeks for their first major refurbishment in the restaurant’s history, local residents were up in arms, concerned that the beloved symbols of the street were disappearing and taking a slice of New York’s history with them. These compact cast iron statues, many holding iron rings that were used as hitching posts to tether horses or to hook lanterns, are a part of the city’s personality.
The restaurant’s interiors are equally iconic, reflecting the building’s history, while maintaining a contemporary edge. The main floor is rich in textures—the Bar Room has dark wood floors and wood panelling, deep red leather banquettes, and an oversized mahogany bar. The ceiling peeks out from above the canopy of toys and gifts. The red-and-white chequered tablecloths are a feature that date to the restaurant’s early days. Upstairs at ‘21’ is more formal, with white tablecloths and large murals that depict quintessential New York scenes. Bar ‘21’ and Lounge, by the entrance, has a black marble bar, wood-panelled walls enlivened by classic Frederic Remington paintings, red leather bar stools and a fireplace. Private dining rooms feature a selection of styles ranging from soft palettes with crystal accents to rich wood panelling.
Simply put, there really is a little magic in every visit to ‘21’. Even as you book a table you feel set to embark on something thrilling and truly special. Then, once you arrive, and pass through the iron gates, you shuttle back in time. Within moments of being welcomed and shown to a bustling bar, or a seat by the fireplace, the sensations of ease and excitement take over. Yes, there is an air of formality here – and rightfully so – as men must wear jackets, but there is also an easy-going feel. After all, the Bar Room’s ceiling is hung with a haphazard array of toys and paraphernalia donated by patrons (like a model PT-109 Patrol Torpedo from JFK, a replica of the one he commanded during World War II, a smashed tennis racquet from John McEnroe, and a microphone from Jimmy Fallon of the Tonight Show). Think of these as an unofficial—and reverse—loyalty programme, tokens that clients give to the restaurant!
‘21’ offers an extraordinary kind of historic, hallowed, yet effortlessly accessible, New York experience of a type that’s disappearing in this increasingly generic world. Anyone can follow in the footsteps of the celebrity, sporting, business and political elite of the US and beyond, sit where they have sat, and enjoy the same menu, service and ambience.Download Factsheet