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.