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New York’s ’21’ Club May Be in Play as Owner Belmond Explores Options

It’s here, in the movie, that Gordon Gekko schools Bud Fox: “Buy a decent suit. You can’t come in here looking like this.”

And here, in real life, that presidents, socialites, stars and deal-makers have been rubbing elbows for nearly a century.

The place is the “21” Club, New York’s iconic power restaurant and former speakeasy — and soon, perhaps, a trophy for some 0.01 percenter.

Belmond Ltd., which owns “21,” as well as the Hotel Cipriani in Venice and the Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg, Russia, among other high-end hospitality properties, is reviewing its strategic options, its chairman said Thursday. Nothing is off the white-linen-topped table, including the piecemeal of sale of prized assets.

Gekko and Bud, of “Wall Street” fame, would be thrilled: Belmond’s stock promptly soared 35 percent on the news.

At “21,” the thought had yet to pierce the music of evening cocktails. By 6 o’clock Thursday, every seat in the front room was taken. Martini glasses chilled behind the bar, to the strains of a “mostly Sinatra” soundtrack.

In the dining room, where Bogart squired Bacall, patrons studied menus under a ceiling hung with toys and memorabilia. The model PT-109 torpedo boat, a gift from John F. Kennedy, was still there. Ditto the pool cue from Jackie Gleason.

‘Last of Its Kind’

Back at the bar, a regular named Jerry Leventhal looked as though he’d had the wind knocked out of him by the suggestion that “21” might change hands. “If for any reason this place would close,” he said, cutting off mid-sentence. “It’s the last of its kind.”

Leventhal first visited the restaurant in 1960, when, as an aspiring actor, he’d managed to scrounge up $12 for lunch. He donned his best clothes but it didn’t matter. He was turned away. “That was the last of an era, when you had to be known,” he recalled.

These days, anyone can step past the ornate iron gates and corps of colorful iron jockeys and pull up a seat of a bar, even a reporter wearing a one-size-too-small jacket borrowed at the last minute to meet the dining-room dress code.

For his part, Leventhal, 83, was wearing a gray suit and a pink tie and working on a glass of wine as a stream of staff stopped by to trade barbs. Before he could leave, a white-jacketed waiter presented Leventhal with a bowl of lobster bisque. He hadn’t ordered it: the food came on instructions from his wife, who was out of town and wanted to make sure her husband was surviving on more than bar nuts and wasabi peas.

Nixon, Onassis

While the bar was open, the famed prohibition-era wine cellar, where the likes of Richard Nixon and Aristotle Onassis once stored their private collections, was off-limits. So was the staff. The club’s long-time host, Shaker Naini, stopped by briefly to recall the days, before smartphones, when “21” kept a Bloomberg terminal on the premises so patrons could check the markets. Soon he was whisked away.

“I don’t talk to the press or the police,” said Nick Luciano, the assistant manager. Avery Fletcher, marketing director, responded to an email saying the staff was too busy for a spur-of-the-moment tour.

On Thursday, Belmond Chairman Roland Hernandez emphasized that the company was considering all of its options, which could mean keeping the company’s unique assets -– which include a fleet of luxury barges, a collection of safari camps and a handful of touring trains.

Trophy Properties

It’s a good bet that any sale would involve breaking up the company’s assets, since its properties probably have more value as trophies for ultra-wealthy investors than as operating businesses.

“Every prince, sultan and oligarch from here to wherever would be interested in owning at least some of these assets, and they would not be particularly interested in how much Ebitda they got from them,” said Jefferies analyst David Katz, referring to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Given “21”’s clientele, Belmond’s bankers might not have to look very far if the company decides to sell. Said Leventhal: “Considering what I spent here over the years, I should already own this place.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Patrick Clark from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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