“Something familiar, and yet something different.” That’s what executive chef John Greeley, of Bar '21', says is the ethos behind this 81-year-old institution’s makeover. The famed restaurant and former prohibition-era speakeasy, which has been seen in classic movies like Wall Street and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, got a few modern additions last Wednesday: a new menu, new bar, and new beers on tap.
Chef Greeley admitted that his favorite dish on the new menu is the New York mini-pretzel served with jalapeño cheese sauce (left), but emphasized that the new fare is meant to be sophisticated and fun, just like at the '21' Club. “I wanted it to reflect New York City. I wanted it to be familiar to someone traveling to America, or an American, hence, Buffalo shrimp instead of Buffalo wings, goat cheese sauce instead of blue cheese sauce, making it a little lighter — health-conscious as well...Doing it with the correct ingredients like mini tacos — sourcing them correctly.”
The inspiration for the lighter, more modern menu can be attributed to chef Greeley’s love of chef Wylie Dufresne’s creativity and use of technology at wd~50. Furthermore, Greeley wants to feature more seafood, to make it seem less like "steakhouse fare, and more like Le Bernardin.” The grilled snapper with salsa verde and avocado mini-fish tacos (left) best illustrates his point.
The menu is not only lighter on the calories, but also lighter on the pocket, since the lunch menu has no items more than $25 (most are less than $21). General Manager Bryan M. McGuire stressed that the changes at the '21' Club were inevitable since they were “trying to stay contemporary and tap into the 35- to 55-year-old crowd.” (Left: Buffalo Shrimp with Goat Cheese Sauce)
The inclusion of six new draft beers couldn’t be just any six beers. Many focus groups were conducted to see which beers most young people want to drink. Two of the beers they decided on were Prohibition Ale (a funny coincidence considering the '21' Club was a popular watering hole during Prohibition) and Guinness. Their research also led the restaurant to team up with Brooklyn Brewery to create their own signature brew aptly named, “Jack & Charlie,” for '21' Club's original founders, Jack Kriendler and Charlie Berns. According to McGuire, the specially-crafted beer also pays homage to the days when the '21' Club was known as “Jack & Charlie’s.”
A mix of AMC’s Mad Men and one of the most upscale dive bars you will ever visit, Bar '21' proves to be a medley of contradictions that somehow makes sense. It's an exciting option for a Friday night on the town.