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Views and opinions about food
Club 33 - Part One
A secret club at Disneyland? Alcohol served inside the Magic Kingdom? Yes, you read that correctly. I suspect many of you have heard about Club 33, actually. It's one of Disneyland's worst-kept secrets.
For the uninitiated, Club 33 is a members- only restaurant that takes up much of the second story space in New Orleans Square. It is not open to the public, and they do indeed serve beer, wine, and other spirits there. But let's start at the beginning.
When Walt Disney wanted to build Disneyland, he needed money despite the well- established studio name. No one wanted to bank on dreams, he was told, especially on ones as seemingly half-cocked as Disneyland. He was able to scrape together the necessary $17 million by famously selling part ownership of the enterprise to the ABC television network (a company which Disney would decades later purchase outright) and by offering sponsorships to outside companies. The early Disneyland was littered with such partnerships: it was Kaiser's Hall of Aluminum, Monsanto's House of the Future, Sunkist's Citrus House, and Pepsi-Cola's Golden Horseshoe Revue. (Side note: these partnerships and lessees have never really stopped: Star Tours has been sponsored by M&M/Mars and Energizer, Indiana Jones by AT&T, and the new Autopia by Chevron). Ironically, Disney's vision of a kingdom walled in and shielded from the outside world has always been compromised by these co-ventures. But Walt had little choice, as he badly needed the income from these companies to even bring his dream to fruition.
Consequently, relationships with these companies had to be nurtured. When Walt was in the Park he frequently played host to executives from Ford, Kodak, or one of the other myriad sponsors. He was keenly aware of the lack of a true executive lounge for such occasions, however. As a stop-gap measure, a section of the Inn-Between, a Cast Member cafeteria behind the Plaza Inn (and also a play on words referring to the art of 'in-between' drawings in animation), was set aside for use by Walt or his executive guests.
The drab employee cafeteria would not do as a permanent solution, though. When plans were drawn up for New Orleans Square, the first new land at Disneyland, there was to be an executive lounge for these sponsors, as well as much larger on-site quarters for Walt himself (Walt already had an apartment above the Main Street Fire Station, but it was small and cramped). Walt's apartments were to be next to the Club 33 kitchen, so he could have easy access to the Club without venturing onstage. Sadly, Walt died before he could move into his new quarters, so they were used as backstage office space until they opened in 1987 as the Disney Gallery. The staircase landing connecting the Gallery and the Club 33 kitchen can still be seen, though it's roped off so it cannot be visited.
The Club 33 was built as envisioned, however. As you probably guessed by now, the location gets its name from the thirty-three original sponsors of Disneyland. Club 33 is a most unique location, different in several respects from your typical Disney eatery. Most of all, it's posh, expensive, and exclusive.
Membership in Club 33 is not easy to come by. There are a couple of different types of membership available: corporate and individual. The corporate membership is so expensive as to be out of your price range, probably (on the order of $10,000 a year). The individual membership is still pricey, but within your means if you are well off: There is an initiation fee of $2000 and annual dues thereafter (including the first year) of another $2000.
The differences between the accounts are as following: on a corporate account, multiple individuals can be considered members, whereas an individual membership is not transferable. There are also limits on how often an individual member can make reservations at the Club.
Here's the contact information if you'd like to ask about signing up:
Don't expect a quick turnaround, though. There is a waiting list to join the Club, which can be as long as two years (I suspect that part of the wait is their intentional delay to make sure you're serious, and sufficiently funded to actually join).
When a member wants to make a reservation, he will usually need to call at least several weeks in advance. The member doesn't have to accompany his guests to dinner that evening, though - he just has to make the reservation. The party shows up at Disneyland's Main Gate, where they will find their names on a list. Admission to Disneyland is included in the reservation, but it is not intended to be an all-day pass. Typically guests without any other pass to Disneyland that day do not have time to ride attractions either before or after their reservation window.
When the party arrives in New Orleans Square, they will need to know where to look to find Club 33, which is deliberately left somewhat hidden onstage. Next to the Blue Bayou, by the exit to Pirates of the Caribbean, is a plain door. On the doorjamb is a crystal plaque with simply the number "33" emblazoned across it. Directly below that is an unlabeled intercom buzzer covered by a brass plaque. When the party presses the buzzer, they must provide the name of the reservation, and they are buzzed into the next room.
They are greeted there by burgundy walls artfully and expensively dressed. The receptionist, off to the right side, will welcome them and take their names once again. If the table is ready, the party is free to head upstairs, either by ascending the slightly curving staircase or riding in a glass elevator. It's not much of a climb, but most folks elect to take the elevator just for the novelty of it. Having an actual ride increases the sense of expectation. Something wonderful, elegant, and exclusive awaits them when the doors part at the top.
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