21 Club closes its doors after 90 years of service

After 90 years of service, 21 Club has closed indefinitely.
Photo by Dean Moses

Renowned prohibition era restaurant, 21 Club located at 21 W 52nd Street has been closed since New York City became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was announced this week that the beloved eatery will not re-open.

Just beyond the rustic, iron gates of 21 Club stands an army of jockeys looking at a bustling sidewalk on 52nd street between 5th and 6th Avenue. Although the figurines cluster the balcony and steps, the 90-year-old historic eatery is looking rather stark these days. The vibrant light emitting from its gold trim doorway has vanished, replaced by a sign reading, “The state mandates, ’21’ Club is temporarily closed.” Now amNewYork Metro has learned that the shutdown may be permanent.

Onlookers take one last photo of the historic eatery. Photo by Dean Moses

“In accordance with the measures established by the public authorities, 21 Club  has been temporarily closed since March 2020 to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus and protect its guests and employees. In light of the ongoing global crisis and anticipated extended recovery period for the hospitality industry, the difficult decision was made that it will not be feasible to reopen the 21 Club in its current form for the foreseeable future,” said a 21 Club media spokesperson.

Established in 1930, 21 Club has become known for it’s eye-catching display of jockeys along its gate. The tale behind this quirky décor was first started by Jay van Urk, a sportsman and longtime patron, who donated the first jockey figurine in the early 1930s, and since then the Vanderbilt, Mellon, and well-known stables in American thoroughbred racing have followed suit by bestowing similar sculptures. 

Known for it’s eye-catching décor, there are about 35 jockey statues lining the gate in front of 21 Club. Photo by Dean Moses

“All the jockeys are homeless now,” said Claus Warnebold, a former customer, as he looked sullenly at what he considered to be a stomping ground that encapsulated old New York City. He wondered if he would ever be able to see such classic architecture and historical features again in a local restaurant after the pandemic has caused so many closures.

“It’s a shame that it’s closing. It’s a ripple effect on the waiters, the chefs and everyone. It really is a shame the toll that this virus has taken on the city,” Warnerbold added.

Prohibition in the United States took place from 1920 to 1933, so when 21 Club opened they had devised a hidden wine cellar with camouflaged doors in which to conceal alcoholic goods. According to 21 Club website, the cellar has held over 2,000 cases of wine over the years, including the private collection of Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and even former President Richard Nixon.

Former patrons are saddened to see a staple of the community close. Photo by Dean Moses

“The company is exploring potential opportunities that will allow 21 Club to remain a viable operation in the long term, while retaining its distinctive character. At this early stage, we are not ready to announce any final concept or timeframe, but the vision is that 21 Club will always remain an important social and cultural hub and icon of New York, one that is well positioned to fulfill its role in the City’s exciting future when the time comes,” a 21 Club media spokesperson stated.


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