02 November 2007

Joan Crawford's Champagne Is Waiting



Recently, I was invited to have lunch in the wine cellar of the "21" Club on W. 52nd Street. The cellar of the former speakeasy is probably hands-down the most interesting and historic in the City. It is reached through a hidden door made of thick cement and opened by way of a trick lock sprung by inserting an long metal rod into a minute hole.

Inside are racks upon racks of wine in a low-ceiling space. Past this room, through what is basically a large hole in the wall, is a more posh, roomier domain where a long table is set amid more racks of wine. It is here that "21" hosts various lunches and dinners for whomever ponies up the dough to rent the room.

The front room is the more historic part of the cellar, and the most fascinating aspect of the space is a collection of private stock that has been gathering dust there for anywhere from 10 to 50 years. Back in the day, "21" would favor its more famous and well-heeled patrons by keeping for them various bottles, which the diner purchased from the wine list and then could call on at any time. Trouble is, sometimes these people didn't call on them, and the bottles remained untouched, taking up space, often outliving the would-be imbibers. There are bottles on hold for Joan Crawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eva Gabor, Richard Nixon, John Huston and many other dearly departed bigwigs, as well as a few for the still living, like Gov. Hugh Carey, Ivan Boesky and Chelsea Clinton.

"21" feels honor bound to keep the various vintages on hold, since, technically, the wine doesn't belong to them. And there's always the hope that the progeny of these dead celebrities will come in and claim their vino. Certainly John Huston has some well-known children out there. And I guess Zsa Zsa could help herself to Eva's bubbly. But I serious doubt any of Joan Crawford's adopted children are going to trade on their mother's name just to get some free booze.




5 comments:

a said...

ghost bottles! wine and spirits, eh?

Jeremiah Moss said...

nice post--what a great scoop! lucky you to get into that old cellar. "21" is such a fantastic place. it's too pricey for regular meals but once in awhile it's so worth the price of a cocktail or two...

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thank you Jeremiah. That cellar is one of my favorite places in NYC. It's true 21 is expensive, but they have a good prix fixe for dinner. And there's always restaurant week.

m said...

Wonder when their going to tear this down and put up a high rise?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Well, M, gladly, I think "21" is a landmark restaurant with a very high chance of survival. It's owned by a large "hospitality" corporation right now, but it's always been sought after as a "prize" property, so if they became disinterested, I'm sure another buyer would pop up. Also, it's does good business. Finally, it's of such historical import that I imagine a great hue and cry would arise if anyone ever threatened to tear it down.