A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In the Den of the Dandy

Tucking myself behind the classic red and white checkered tablecloth at lunch a few days ago, I thought about the dual personalities of a city that is constantly changing yet still exudes a certain sense of pride over such venerable institutions as the 21 Club, the last of the townhouses that once lined the stretch of 52nd street between 5th and 6th avenues known as Speakeasy Row.

Of course, the Club's connection to some of the 20th Century's most notable dandies has been well-documented, if somewhat forgotten - indeed, the Club's Bar Room set the stage for noted sartorialists both real and imagined. Humphrey Bogart, perhaps clad in one of his signature bow ties, proposed to Lauren Bacall in the confines of the dimly lit main room. Gordon Gekko lured Bud Fox into his web over lunch at the famed establishment.

Travel farther still into the bowels of the restaurant and one comes face to face with the murky legacy of one of the city's great jazz-age dandies. Walk through the restaurant's kitchen, head down the stairs to the basement, and stop at the grey brick wall just before the restrooms. Take the long metal wire that hangs from the wall and, if you select the correct slot and insert the wire just so, a locking mechanism will release. Give the wall a good push - and that will need to be some push to move the 2.5 ton door - and you have entered the Club's world-renowned wine cellar. Walk past the shelves of vintage wines and whiskeys and you come to an opening in the wall that leads you to the cellar of the next building. The space beyond has been re-imagined as a private room to entertain large dining groups, but tucked into the far corner of the room is an intricately-carved, ornately-decorated wood booth.

The table and booth were the one-time home away from home for the Night Mayor, Jimmy Walker, so named for his penchant for speak-easy hopping. If the point wasn't suitably made by that nickname, Walker was also called the Late Mayor because he never arrived at City Hall before noon. If Walker's honesty and integrity were called into question during his mayoral tenure, his reputation as one of the more sartorially-inclined Tammany-ites of the Roaring Twenties remains secure almost 100 years later. Nestle into that cozy nook long enough and it really isn't difficult to imagine Gentleman Jim holding court and tossing around his glib one-liners, the picture of elegance as Robert Caro once described him:

"Pinch-waisted, one button suit, slenderest of cravats, a shirt from a collection of hundreds, pearl-grey spats buttoned around silk-hosed ankles, toes of the toothpick shoes peeking out from the spats polished to a gleam. Pixie smile, the 'vivacity of a song-and-dance man,' a charm that made him arrive in the Senate chamber like a glad breeze . . . The Prince Charming of Politics . . . slicing through the ponderous arguments of the ponderous men who sat around him with a wit that flashed like a rapier. Beau James."

No comments:

Post a Comment