The idea that 21 Club NYC is closing is like a bad dream for me. The news that the New York Restaurant planned to shut own for good March 9th, 2021 (barring action) hit me via a text message by my good friend Beth Schnitzer just something like 15 minutes ago, or so. Now I knew why my whole energy was just plain off this week, and particularly today. A giant part of my life, the vaunted place that was the symbol of success, particularly during the 1980s, when I hit college, was set to close after a 90-year-run. My very heart aches as I write this, for I loved, and love, 21 Club.
This news forces me to focus my thoughts on what was, and is, truly important to me. With respect to 21 Club, it was and is a desire to touch various aspects of big city American culture. I suppose, as I ponder while writing, that it was kind of injected in me because my dear Mom worked for United Airlines, and was able to show me a lot of America before I turned 16. No, that did not include 21 Club, but it did include dinner at Windows on The World in the World Trade Center when I was 14 years old, and flying first class on United many times before that, and after.
I write this part for my family, and my younger cousins: it wasn’t for me a black thing, or a white thing, it was my Mom’s message to me that no place, particularly no venue considered elite, should be off-limits to me in my way of thinking. She told me to always ask for the front table at a restaurant, because “they always try and put us in the back”, and if I didn’t get it, insist on it. So, by the time I was introduced to the very concept of 21 Club – that this place was a marker of having made it – I decided upon the objective that I would eat there, eventually. And, yes, land a front table.
Two events collided which put that idea in my head: Lauren, my girlfriend at UC Berkeley at the time, who was studying with the objective of going into investment banking, and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Lauren was four things: extremely smart, very beautiful, powerfully athletic, and overly ambitious. Wall Street was the movie that may have introduced the saying “greed is good” from Michael Douglas’ now classic and record-setting speech (said to be the longest line in movie history) he made while playing Gordon Gekko, but for me, the Edward Pressman film was a perfect visual guide book of how a young man who’s thinking of moving to New York City should live.
Gordon Gekko had $4,000 suits, double-shirts, a house in the Hamptons, and an giant, sylish office in lower Manhattan, adorned with some of the world’s finest art. Gordon Gekko also held court at 21 Club.
When Gekko walked into 21 Club, all of the major socialites and power-players knew him. He stopped to shake hands, seemingly, with everyone in the main room. That, to me, was and is a symbol of real power: being known by everyone at a place like 21 Club NYC. To reach that point means your life stands on a giant mountain of the right relationships and decisions. It was the pinnacle of the results my parents raised me to expect, and expressed by the title of the book “How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.”
That book had several rules that Gordon Gekko lived by, even if they were not directly expressed in the movie Wall Street:
1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
4. Be a good listener. …
5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
So, when you watch Wall Street, and you should, think about those rules as you see Gekko smoothly make his way through 21 Club to meet Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, and says “Georgie, the cellular phone king!” All of that, and the setting where Gekko famously told Fox “Try the steak tartare— it’s off the menu,” and Fox collected that $1 million check from him, made a giant impression on me. That’s where it started. But then, another classic movie would cement the objective of visiting 21 Club at least once, for me. The Sweet Smell of Success.
I was introduced to that movie in 1994 and by my friend Chris Lavin, who was editor of the Oakland Tribune. The Sweet Smell of Success featured Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsaker and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco. Chris was interested in the movie because it was a story of a powerful newspaper columnist, but what captured my attention was that Hunsaker had as his office-away-from-the-office 21 Club. I said to myself, one day I would sit where Burt Lancaster did when he told the waiter to put more horseradish on his steak because “That horse won’t jump a fence!” Or when J.J. famously humiliated his table guests in this scene:
It would be 11 years later before I finally got the chance to eat at 21 Club.
The 2005 NFL Draft And The Start Of Many Annual Visits To 21 Club
That day came during my first trip to New York to cover the 2005 NFL Draft, in person, and with an NFL-provided press credential. By then, I started Oakland’s first blog, Oakland Focus, and prior to that my first tech startup, Sports Business Simulations. But, since I formed what is now the only bid to host a Super Bowl Game in Oakland’s history, the league granted my request to blog about the event, in person. I was stoked. A made reservations to stay at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, and to eat at 21 Club the Wednesday night before the NFL Draft, which kicked off day one that Thursday night. That time it was at Javitz Convention Center. So, I took my best suits and put my best foot forward.
That first time at 21 was a blast. It was everything I thought it would be. The wait staff knew my name as I walked in the door. No kidding. It was a shocking, but common, happening that spoke to the fact that 21 Club, too, practiced what Dale Carnegie preached. They made me feel important from the moment I walked in the door. They sat me at Table 18, which was one away from the famous Table 12 where Frank Sinatra liked to sit (or so I was told). They also allowed me to get quite sauced on Manhattans – like, five of them. I balanced off the drinks with, you guessed it, Speakeasy Steak Tartare, and a salad. Then, feeling like a master of the universe, I headed over to New York Cigar Bar Club Macanudo, dubbed “the most upscale cigar bar in New York City”, and had a Corona. Then, I woke up at 7 am, NFL Draft morning and ran up to Central Park, and then back to my hotel room.
That was the NFL Draft that saw Cal’s Arron Rogers sit in the green room as 25 other players were drafted before him, before the Green Bay Packers hired him. Alex Smith, now with the Washington Football Team, was the first player taken, and attended Utah.
Yeah, I was not only there for that, I got to meet a fellow Cal alum there and working for MTV, who I interviewed, named Brianna Keilar. My post on her gained a ton of attention and emails to me from broadcast agents. I informed her about one agent who was particularly aggressive, then passed her contact info to him with her permission, one thing led to another, and she was hired by CNN a few months later.
In 2006, I reprised my role as 21 Club visitor while covering the NFL Draft, where I was the first to cover it with a YouTube channel, Zennie62. Only this time, I wound up taking my friend, former Stanford Cardinal and Oakland Raiders running back Michael Dotterer, with me. The result was an epic walk from the Tribeca Film Festival, where he was promoting a movie, to 21 Club. Along the way, he and I made what is now a classic YouTube vlog of DOT giving advice to NFL rookies.
At 21 Club, I introduced him to a good female friend of mine, and they really hit it off. Where we sat was, interestingly, Table 3, just across from the corner Table 4, where our waiter said Donald Trump occasionally sat.
In 2007, I visited, and, drum-roll, sat at Table 21, in the middle – the same table Burt Lancaster sat at in Sweet Smell of Success. That was a total wow, moment. That was also the same NFL Draft that saw LSU QB Jamarcus Russell go to The Oakland Raiders.
In 2008, I took my friend Deena there, who had just landed a job in New York, and then we went to a high-rise cocktail bar. A nice evening. We sat at Table 42, that time. I had The 21 Chicken Hash, as a change-up for me.
In 2009, I missed my 21 Club dinner only to eat with my friend who I had started covering the NFL Draft with, and his wife, as they lived in suburban Hicksville, and offered me a place to stay. His idea was for me to get away from the fun of New York and focus only on the NFL Draft. In retrospect, it was a bad idea. I believe that work worth doing is made to be fun, and I my coverage of the NFL Draft had to include enjoying, and vlogging about, New York City. That would be the only year I missed my 21 Club dinner date. It made for a less than fun trip. I vowed I would never let myself get side-tracked like that, again.
In 2010, I got back on track with dinner at 21 Club. The Table of the night was Table 44. My initial dinner table neighbors were not the nicest people, but thankfully they left and were quickly replaced by folks far less insufferable, and far more enjoyable. But I was a tad miffed I missed running into now-Las Vegas Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden, who I was told, had dinner at 21 earlier that day. As I recall, it was Jon’s first year in New York for ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft. Given that we have a friendship that goes back to 1998 and his time as Oakland Raiders Head Coach, while I represented Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, it would have been fun to see him at my place: 21.
In 2011, I took my friend and his wife to 21 Club, on that Wednesday night before the NFL Draft, and we wound up meeting the famous actor Dennis Farina. How that happened was classically 21 Club: knowing he was among friends, even if he was just meeting them for the first time, Farina waved to the patrons in the room, and then went around shaking hands, including ours. We were at Table
In 2012, I took my then-new-friend, the smart, wonderful, beautiful, vivatious and female-bodybuilder-buffed hotness that is Julie Buehler to 21 Club. Talk about a grand time! I love Julie. At the time, she was the first woman to have her own sports talk radio show, and it was her first NFL Draft as credentialed press. (I wound up being a guest host on it that year in Palm Springs.) This video blog tells much of the story, and as you can tell, we both had a mix of good food and drink, punctuated by a visit to The Wine Cellar. Today, Julie has pivoted to have her own show called Get Your Love On Podcast. It is dedicated to the family of faith around the globe, and is at https://getyourloveon.org.
In 2013, I went to 21 by myself, and the ever-nice wait staff sat me in a corner. Not knowing 21 Club History, and mindful of my upbringing, I asked about the seat. That was when my server for the evening, Silvio, told me about Gallos Corner, and the history of Fred Trump’s Seat. Fred Trump is the same man who’s President Trump’s late father.
In 2014, I took another new friend to 21 Club: the actor and producer Tanis Parenteau. I met Tanis after she starred as Tammy on House of Cards, and playing actor Michael Kelley’s love interest in one episode. We basically met on Twitter, and that led to an epic interview you can see on my YouTube channel, and a heck-of-fun dinner at 21 Club. Yes, that was during the time I was in New York City for the 2014 NFL Draft. (A great trip as Marriott was the hotel sponsor; I stayed at the Courtyard New York Manhattan Central Park.)
Like Julie, Tanis is very beautiful, engaging, and ambitious. Tanis is someone who can make time stop with her spot-on takes on America’s social condition. I am very fortunate to call her friend to this day, and recently had her on my show to talk about her work on Billions opposite Paul Giamatti, and her other television work. Nothing against Gal Gadot, but Tanis can play Wonder Woman too. Some type of super hero role is in her future, unless one of her film projects gets greenlit.
The Last Trip I Made To 21 Club New York Was 2014, But I Vowed To Go Back
As the NFL started moving the NFL Draft from city to city, all the better to escape the bad-dealings they faced in New York City, my annual trips to 21 Club were cut. But, I always vowed to return. I always believed 21 would just be there, you know? Now, we have to save it. I can think of few people better equipped to save 21 Club than President Trump.
Now, I am not the same party as President Trump, and regular readers know I don’t like how he’s injected racism into the 2020 Election, but all that aside, he’s the best person to save 21 Club. President Trump is a regular there. Trump is part of its growth. He gets it. He can round up the financing and the support to keep it running for a good set of years of time. Also, saving 21 Club New York might save Trump from legal problems in the near future.
All I know is 21 Club must be saved. It’s too much a part of American culture to be allowed to die for reasons that ultimately fall into the lap of government. Government must stop putting the cost of The Pandemic and its response to it on the backs of Americans. If government asks for businesses to close, then it should pay for it.