The media is abuzz today with the sad news that the 21 Club is the latest victim of Covid-19. Staff are to be laid off as of March, and there are no plans to reopen for the foreseeable future.
Located at 21 West 52nd Street, just north of Rockefeller Center, the 90 year old bar/restaurant was a fashionable haunt frequented by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (he proposed to her there), Orson Welles, Joan Crawford, Veronica Lake, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, JFK and Jackie, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, and scores of others. Literary types too. Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway. Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. Ed Sullivan broadcast his radio show from the 21 Club in the 1940s. The prevalence of columnists in the club made it a natural location for the movie classic Sweet Smell of Success (1957). You can also see it in All About Eve (1950), natch, Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), and a zillion other movies.
The joint had originally operated down in the village under a variety of other names, and was a Speakeasy, Prohibition being in full force at the time. On one occasion when columnist Walter Winchell was banned from the club, he retaliated by demanding a police raid in his column — and got one. During those early years, the booze was kept on special retractable shelves that dumped the bottles down a chute when the cops came! At any rate, barring an unexpected rescue, the 21 Club now joins Chumley’s in the ranks of the silenced Speakeasies.
Thanks to Lisa Ferber, a felicitous messenger and latter-day habitue of 21, for relating the news.