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Historic NYC restaurant to auction off wines

On Sept. 12, Christie's will be auctioning off some 630 bottles from the famed 21 Club that began as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era of 1920 to 1933. The auction house estimates that the wines will bring in between $1.9 million and $2.7 million.
/ Source: Reuters

Whoopi Goldberg, George Clooney as well as the Britain's Princess Anne recently threw parties in its wine cellar. Elizabeth Taylor, Ivan Boesky, and Chelsea Clinton have bottles there.

But now, as the wooden crates of fine reds pile up chest high, New York's famed 21 Club needs to tidy its cellar, which is hidden behind a 5,000-pound brick door.

On Sept. 12, Christie's will be auctioning off some 630 bottles from the restaurant that began as a speakeasy selling swill to swells during the Prohibition era of 1920 to 1933.

The bottles on offer are mostly Burgundies, said Christie's North American head of wines Charles Curtis.

"Mostly 1999s and some 2002s," he said, speaking of two vintages almost as legendary as the 21 Club itself.

Parting is such sweet sorrow
"It was very difficult to decide which bottles to part with. I'm very proprietary about my wines," said Philip Pratt, 21's wine director. "I guess the best comparison I can make is: Have you ever had a closet full of clothes? You love them, but you still have to make room for new outfits."

21's wine closet is big enough to hold 25,000 bottles, not counting the private stock of some 2,000 they keep on hand for likes of the late President Richard Nixon and entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.

"We no longer offer the program, but the wines are here and part of their estates. And sometimes their heirs call just to check up on a bottle," said Pratt.

A place in history
The cellar, hidden behind a secret door, really was a speakeasy where gangsters and novelists could rub shoulders with powerful politicians, who could have a drink away from the eyes of more temperate voters.

The club was opened in 1922 in Greenwich Village by cousins Jack Kreindler and Charlie Berns but moved to its current location in 1929. Despite numerous raids during Prohibition, the cousins were never caught.

21 Club's wines will be just a part of the auction and Christie's estimates the sale will bring in between $1.9 million and $2.7 million.

Located on the northern border of Rockefeller Center with its distinctive balcony of painted cast iron jockey statues, 21 expects to use its share of the proceeds to further expand its wine list, which already has 1,300 wines on offer.

The 21 Club is owned by hotel and leisure company Orient-Express Hotels Ltd.