They’ll be back: Workers at renowned 21 Club in Midtown vow a classic eatery’s revival

21 Club workers say “We will be back.”
Photo by Dean Moses

It may not be the end of the line for 21 Club after all.

“We will be back” was the message resounding from 21 Club employees as they rallied outside of the eatery at 21 W 52nd St. on Wednesday afternoon, hours before the arrival of a forecast winter storm.

Restaurant workers from the historic fixture held a rally outside of the location’s rustic gates on Dec. 16th to declare they will not go quietly, becoming just another statistic thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. About 50 employees passionately argued that no one should lose their jobs due closures mandated by the state, and, in fact, that they will return when the restaurant is able to re-open.

“We are 21” chanted the workers, who hung signs around their necks showcasing a photograph of themselves, along with their name, and how long they had worked at the establishment. The rally was not just about keeping businesses open during the pandemic, these demonstrators wanted to show that they are willing to fight for their jobs and restore 21 Club back to its former glory.

Demonstrators waved flags in front of the historic restaurant. Photo by Dean Moses

On March 16, exactly nine months ago, the restaurant closed its doors to help protect its workers and patrons during the pandemic. This week marked the first time in nearly a year employees had been reunited after it was announced that 21 Club will remain closed indefinitely, and in doing so costing the jobs of over 100 individuals.

Close to 120 cooks, porters, waiters, captains, bartenders, banquet waiters, bussers, sommeliers, coat room attendants and others were notified Tuesday of their layoffs.

“These are the people who make the 21 Club a legend,” said Bill Granfield, president of the UNITE HERE Local 100 union. “It will re-open, it will definitely re-open! The vaccine is here in New York City, and they will reopen,” he exclaimed, emphasizing that they will be ready when that day comes.

While advocates for the premises are hopeful, the building is looking less than itself.

The jockey statues that famously greeted costumers as they entered have been completely removed, signaling the end of an era; however, the demonstrators are not taking this closure in stride.

The news of the indefinite shutdown comes during the same week as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency order to close all indoor dining.

Chants of “We are 21 Club!” rang out. Photo by Dean Moses

“I am here because I represent a community in Upper Manhattan that like many communities across this city has been hit by the pandemic so hard, and our workers have been disproportionately affected by the closures and the lack of planning and the lack of benefits that you all deserve. There is a cumulative experience in the hospitality industry, I am sure with the history of this restaurant that there is over 100 years of experience amongst the workers here. With that experience we deserve to be treated fairly. We deserve to be considered and our rights deserve to be protected when our city re-opens,” Assemblywoman Carmen N. De La Rosa said.

De La Rosa emphasized that when the 21 Club is back in business, they must ensure that workers will get their jobs back so that they can continue to support their families and receive the benefits they worked so many years for.

Demonstrators stand united for 21 Club. Photo by Dean Moses

Despite the looming snowstorm and cold weather, the protesters’ steadfast dedication and determination to fight for their jobs warmed the protest as they chanted, “Si se puede/Yes we can,” while holding onto a banner stating, ”We will all unite here!”

The Union shared that they will continue to meet with management representatives during this closure to discuss support for the workers and the potential of re-opening with new safety protocols.


Individuals showcase their photos on signs hanging around their necks. Photo by Dean Moses