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Club 33 - Part II
In Part I of the series we read about the discreet means of entry into Club 33 via intercom, whereupon visitors were ushered into a posh waiting area. From there they boarded a glass elevator to head upstairs for their meal, although a good portion of the guests are there as much to soak up the rich trappings and exclusive nature of the facility as to eat the fine food.
At the top of the elevator is a small landing, near which stands the golden telephone booth from the Disney movie The Happiest Millionaire (Disney's newest release in 1967, when the Club opened). Also nearby is a tall glass case filled with Club 33 logo merchandise, such as wine glasses, golf balls, baseball caps, executive ballpoint pens, or coffee mugs.
The landing leads in two different directions. Off to the right is the Trophy Room (shown above). When the Club was first designed, this was to be the dining area for a very select group of guests, while the other, larger room was to be used as a lounge. The Trophy Room was therefore conceived with two of Walt's "little ideas" in mind. First, there would be animatronic entertainment while his company dined.
You may be familiar with the story of the Tiki Room, which opened four years before Club 33. Walt originally wanted to do a combined restaurant and animatronic show (the initial concept of a talking Confucius and Chinese cuisine gave way to more feasible birds and a tropical theme). When Walt was convinced by plans that showed diners would linger and profits would suffer, he went for a pure show instead. But he remembered his dream, and made it a reality in the Trophy Room, which gets its name from the stuffed birds and other animals on display along the walls, such as one might find in a hunting lodge. Or are they stuffed?
That vulture there in the corner (above) looks like he might be ready to come to life at any moment! In truth, the vulture was wired to operate, but it was never programmed, as Walt died before his restaurant was finished.
The other innovation Walt wanted to introduce to his invited guests was a subtle improvement on guest service. When diners would chat amongst themselves that the soup lacked salt, or that someone's glass needed refilling, waiters would magically appear from the kitchen with just the remedy, as if they had anticipated the request. In truth, the trick was a hidden microphone, implanted into a chandelier in the ceiling (shown above). Once again, however, Walt allowed himself to be talked out of an idea - in this case, because the proposed eavesdropping was pretty darned intrusive - and the microphone was never put to use. Though it was - and remains to this day - wired into the chandelier.
Going back to the elevator and out the other direction from the landing is a long hallway leading to the Main Dining Room (shown above from the other direction), originally planned to be the lounge.
This hallway features an antique harpsichord -- no, that's not a piano -- which still plays just fine.
If you glance out the windows while in this hallway, you'll find yourself above Royal Street - you are moving from the building above the Blue Bayou to the building above Cafˇ Orleans as you traverse the hall. The passageway is home to the Club's wine selection, and perhaps most notably, it's wide enough to set up a long row of tables for the Club's fixed- price lunch- time buffet service, offered several times weekly in lieu of table service during lunch hours (as shown in the hallway photo above). By the way, the only brunch both the characters Mickey and Minnie make an appearance at is the one held here.
This dining room is less dramatically paneled, but its overall appearance is just as posh. Diners are free to wander outside briefly, onto a balcony that overlooks Royal Street on one side (above) and Cafˇ Orleans' outdoor patio on the other. The part over the Cafˇ is a favored spot to watch Fantasmic! by nighttime diners, although the view is significantly blocked by very large trees.
If a party elects to reserve a meal at the Club during the table- service (as opposed to the cheaper brunch, by the way, the main dining room during dinner is shown above), they can expect service unique in Disney theme parks. The servers, dressed in uniforms that evoke the look of a tuxedo, are polite, discreet, and unhurried - their very manner is designed to exude the exclusivity of a private club.
Generally the servers are older than elsewhere in Disneyland, for turnover at Club 33 is very low, possibly because the pay in tips alone is extraordinarily high by theme park standards. A short four hour shift, with four or five tables to watch and each party remaining up to two hours each, results in a measured pace of work that yields hundreds of dollars in tips per day.
Diners are poured large glasses of Evian drinking water, often by attendants who hold the bottle a couple of feet above the glass to demonstrate the classy -- dare I say snobbish -- art of dispensing liquid from great heights. In earlier times, fresh ice cubes for your drinks used to be hand dispensed one at a time with tongs from an ice bucket, and each party could expect matchbooks on their table, featuring the Club 33 logo and their own party's name embossed in gold letters across each matchbook.
The menu varies frequently, since the Club has by definition a small group of repeat visitors who might otherwise get bored with the selections. In general, the Club offers fine French dining, with dishes that encompass seafood, steak, pork, and even vegetarian categories. Entrees are typically around $30 each, and appetizers and desserts are priced correspondingly. Thus, an average meal for two might very easily cost $100 or more including a single glass of wine.
Despite the posh surroundings, visitors seldom dress up for their Club 33 visits anymore. It's not uncommon to see casual "tourist attire," for many diners spend the entire day at Disneyland.
Diners often hear from previous visitors that the bathrooms at the Club are worth a look. Indeed, the bathrooms are as elegant as the rest of the facility, with a rather unique feature that the toilets are flushed via old-fashioned pull- strings from above. Many visitors find this quaint and charming, and invariably share this little detail with their friends.
Precisely this manner of word- of- mouth has guaranteed the Club its status as an elitist, expensive, and secret facility. It's an "open secret," to be sure: so many people revel in its secrecy that it's hardly unknown anymore. Nevertheless, this is part of the Club's drawing power. Its very exclusivity makes many frequent Disneyland visitors thirst to visit it, to say that they have done so at least once.
Because memberships are so expensive, most of us will never get the chance to go. And if we do go, it will most likely be as the guest of someone else who is already a member. One thing is certain, though: the Club leaves a lasting impression. Those of us who have gone to Club 33 can honestly say it's an experience we won't soon forget.
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