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November 30, 2020updated 03 Nov 2021 4:56am

21

By Alex Hunt MW

The story of the 21 Club’s wine cellar is as celebrated as its contents. Built from a design by architect Frank Buchanan at the height of Prohibition in the 1930s, it’s a secret, federal agent-defying hideaway, complete with an elaborate system “of camouflaged doors, invisible chutes, and revolving bars” that would, by the sounds of it, have made a fine set for a silent movie of the same vintage.

In the years after Repeal, the cellar played host to the private collections of, among others, Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Mae West, Eva Gabor and Aristotle Onassis. But it wasn’t the fascinating history—or the restaurant’s continuing reputation for attracting big showbiz names—that impressed the panel at The World’s Best Wine Lists awards. It was, rather, the way that idiosyncratic cellar has been put to good use: the impressively long list at Club 21 features many mature vintages, not least in the “Opportunities” section.

It is, as the judges said, “a great selection, with extra browny points for putting so many wines on for a good price.”

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