Sicilian Invasion

Bar room at Manhattan's 21 Club

The 21 Club, a former speakeasy and one of New York’s legendary restaurants, is heading south.

It’s only for a week, though, and it should be spectacular. Chef Luca Orini and Executive Chef Vincenzo Pinto, who man the stoves at the restaurant’s sister Orient Express hotel properties in Sicily, are taking over the kitchens at the 21 Club from February 28 through March 4.

Highlights include cooking classes, a winemaker dinner featuring the wines of Cottanera, and dishes from the Grand Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant’ Andrea. Highlights include sea bass salad with tomato, capers and olives; traditional pasta with sardines, pine nuts and raisins; beef filet coated with pistachio nuts, served with Etna wine sauce; a traditional Sicilian cannolo and a seven-layer chocolate cake.

Under normal circumstances, the food at the 21 Club is not too shabby. The kitchen is in the competent hands of Executive Chef John Greeley, who has worked at the restaurant since 1995. Greeley has kept many of 21’s classic dishes, and focussed on the best that American cuisine has to offer. He prepares wild game during the winter, and over the summer months presents a range of fresh-caught local fish and shellfish.

Opened in 1930 by Jack Kreindler and Charlie Burns, the 21 Club was not a club at all. It was a speakeasy, cleverly designed during the Prohibition years to evade the detection of the law. When ten Federal agents burst through the door in 1932, they spent several hours combing the premises for contraband and left empty-handed. Behind a camouflaged 2.5 ton door that appeared to be part of the wall, the wine cellar remained hidden—more than 2,000 cases of imported French wine that were both priceless and unobtainable at the time.

Anyone passing through Manhattan should visit 21, if only for a cocktail in the famous Bar Room, with a ceiling line with thousands of toys and pieces of sports memorabilia. For a romantic dinner, nothing beats Upstairs at 21, the intimate “restaurant within a restaurant” featuring a special menu and seating for 32 diners. Either way, you’re indulging in a piece of American history that is both classic and timeless.

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