21 West 52nd Street
In those days, "21" was not what it is today. It was an elegant speakeasy where anybody who was anybody could get a drink and have a good time, even during the days of Prohibition. Somewhere along the line, my uncles became great friends of Jack and Luisa Kriendler and when they visited New York City, stayed at their apartment over the "21" Club. They enjoyed the place so much that one of them, my uncle Jorge, had one of the rooms in his Miami Beach home decorated with round tables and 21's signature red checked table cloths. I inherited a bunch of them and used them for picnics and casual entertaining in the 70's not paying much attention to their provenance until I lost them in a move together with some of my grandmother's linens. You certainly never know what you have until you loose it, but then again, we had already lost so much...
The famous barroom with its checkered tablecloths
In 1934, Charlie Berns, the club's co owner, created '21' Brands, a liquor importing/distilling/distributing company. Its first salesman was then-aspiring actor David Niven. Another "salesman" in the 1950's, was my father and two of his friends, who represented "21" Brands in Havana. Nice work, if you can get it.....
One of the famous toys over the Bar
The cellar then
The first version of the club opened in Greenwich Village in 1922, run by cousins Jack Kreindler and Charlie Berns. It was originally a small speakeasy known as the Red Head. It wasn't until 1929 that the club moved to its present location at 21 W 52nd St. and changed its name to "Jack and Charlie's 21". It was the place to "hang out" for playboys and debutants, as well as members of cafe society, movie stars and anybody who was anybody in those days. For its wonderful history, including its infamous raids during Prohibition, visit their site here.
The cellar today
Even though "21" was sold years ago to Orient Express, I am happy to see the Chicken Hash is still on the menu for a mere $36...chicken feed! It is also nice to see there is a dress code of sorts still enforced, although the tie requirement was abolished last year. I will miss the tie policy at ‘21.’ It held up an example of what etiquette should be. "The tie drawer in the “21” cloakroom — where generations of patrons have repaired their faux-pas — is as much a part of the restaurant’s lore as its checked tablecloths and the ceiling dangling with dozens of obsessively dusted toy airplanes, ships and football helmets. The restaurant’s publicist, Ms. Biederman, said it would continue to proffer ties to the needy who preferred them."
LeRoy Neiman was a frequent visitor and patron throughout the years
The bar, LeRoy Neiman
I don't know how the food fares nowadays with all the changes by the new owners. It was never a place for great food, just good food; but it was a fantastic place to meet with your friends and see and be seen. Possibly, the original Mortimer's, now also defunct. For a review of the new "21" I will have to defer to my friend reggiedarling who was there very recently. He is a good source.
Creamy Chicken Hash
1 ½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cups chicken stock
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ cup unbleached white flour
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ½ lb grated gruyere
½ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the chicken breasts, and lower the heat to a simmer. Poach the chicken breasts 20 minutes or until fully cooked.
2. Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and cool completely before cutting into one inch cubes. Reserve the liquid.
3. Combine the softened butter with the flour, kneading them together into a paste.
4. Return the reserved chicken stock to a boil, and using a wire whisk, add the flour/butter combination in one‐tablespoon increments.
5. Cook 5 minutes then add the sherry and cream.
6. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Whisk in the cheese and nutmeg. Remove from heat once cheese is melted.
7. Fold in diced chicken.
8. OPTIONAL CRUNCHY TOPPING: Top with additional cheese, and brown lightly under broiler.
9. Serve with spinach and wild rice. Many patrons prefer the hash served over white toast (no crust) instead of wild rice.
Photos courtesy of the "21" Club