Wednesday, November 21, 2007

W. And "21"

I don't know what it is about the "21" Club, but I love writing about the joint. Maybe it's the rich history, the clubby decor, the ghosts of it famous patrons of yesteryear (Welles, Bogart, Hemingway, etc.), the storied wine cellar, the fact that it's the only restaurant left in New York to require a coat and tie—or all of these. But the place is rich in material. I've penned features on it four times in the past three years. The angle this time is that George W. Bush has yet to visit the place, and is threatening to break "21"'s streak of hosting Presidents. It ran on the front page of the New York Sun today. As loath as I am to giving W. any kind of publicity, here it is:

White House Says There's Still Time for '21'


American presidents have little in common aside from the address 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., an oddly shaped office, and a tendency to inspire midterm election losses. But, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they've shared at least one other experience: They've all visited the "21"Club, the jacket-required restaurant and former speakeasy on West 52nd Street.

John Kennedy dined at "21" the day before he was inaugurated. Richard M. Nixon frequented table 14 so often the management affixed a gold plaque with his name on it to the ceiling above it. Jimmy Carter held a luncheon there before the commencement of the 1976 Democratic Convention. Indeed, every president from Franklin Delano Roosevelt on has paid a call while occupying the White House, according to general manager Bryan McGuire.

But nerves are a little raw and feelings are a trifle hurt at "21" these days. Since taking office nearly seven years ago, President George W. Bush has made himself a stranger. Not one lunch. Not one dinner. And now time is running out. "We'd really like it if he comes while he's still president," Mr. McGuire said.

A spokeswoman for the restaurant, Diana Biederman, added: "He's going to break our streak. He's got a cook at home and I understand that, but we just take it so personally."

There's clearly no Bush family bias against the old saloon at work here. The first lady has been to eat many times. In fact, during the 2004 Republican convention in New York City, she was quoted by the New York Post as saying "21" was her favorite restaurant. The Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna, have been seated there, both with and without their mother. The canteen has also enjoyed the patronage of President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara.

The current president's administration is likewise fond of the eatery, with its checked tablecloths and $30 hamburgers. "Condi's been here," Ms. Biederman said. "Cheney's been here. Everyone's been here but him." What's more, the place is catnip to would-be Presidents. Senators Kerry, Biden, and Clinton, as well as Mayor Giuliani — they've all passed through the establishment's famous wrought-iron gates.

When this reporter called the White House to see if the president himself had any plans to visit "21," a press office spokesman, who asked not to be named, replied: "There are no updates in his schedule at this time. Obviously there's a lot of time left in his term."

"21" has never been forced to extend formal invitations to the White House before; presidential visits just seemed to happen as a matter of course. "How do you do it?" Ms. Biederman said. "I could send a letter to the White House, but it would be like 'Who's this stalking girl?'"

However, personal inquiries have been made. "I mentioned it to Mrs. Bush and I mentioned it to the daughters several times," a former manager and host at "21," Bruce Snyder, who retired in 2005 after 36 years on the job, said.

The reply: "He doesn't like to go out to dinner," Mr. Snyder said.

So if the president is a homebody, and won't come to "21," why not bring "21" to the president? Perhaps, during his next visit to Manhattan, the restaurant could deliver food to his doorstep — the way Grace Kelly served Jimmy Stewart a "21" dinner in his Greenwich Village apartment in the 1954 film "Rear Window." The restaurant has thought of it, and ruled it out, Ms. Biederman said. "The problem with sending food to him is the Secret Service would be all over that," she said. "When Dick Cheney was here, they had tasters."

Moreover, Ms. Biederman added, the point is that "we want him here."

Past presidents have seemed less averse to eating out, according to Mr. Snyder. "I remember President Nixon the most," he said. "He came before he was president, while he was president, and after he was president." During one of Reagan's visits, Mr. Snyder, just to be on the safe side, escorted him to the bathroom. "I wanted to see that thick hair in the light." President and Mrs. Clinton celebrated daughter Chelsea's 17th birthday at "21" — staying so late that the family was given a tour of the saloon's famous wine cellar at 2 a.m., with Hillary herself pushing open the 4,000-pound cement door.

But if President George W. Bush doesn't make it to the "21" Club during his time in office, will the storied restaurant be diminished — just a little bit? Mr. Snyder laughs at the idea: "Guess what?" he said. " '21' is stronger than he is."

1 comment:

zach said...

Nice. This president is missing out on a great thing. Keep up the good work