Clubbedby David Koenig, staff writer
Fourteen years ago, Disneyland introduced the Fastpass ticket system for the first time, on Space Mountain. The system operated fairly well, in no small measure due to the fact that the Fastpass line and the Standby line were basically out of sight of each other. Problems began surfacing when Fastpass was added in more conspicuous locations, such as on Autopia and Splash Mountain, where the two lines were situated side-by-side for long stretches and the “control point,” where the lines merged, was in plain sight. Suddenly, Standby guests felt like rubes as hundreds of fellow visitors were encouraged to cut in front of them. The typical guests seemed to be OK with the free cuts when they were kept low-key, but felt like second-class citizens when the cuts were shoved in their faces.
The same principle has always worked in Club 33’s favor. Few people rail against the existence of a private, members-only, booze-friendly fortress in the midst of Disneyland because they’re either oblivious to it or accepting of it, because it’s always operated so low-profile. It’s not listed on any park maps, it doesn’t have a neon sign, it doesn’t allow drunken diners to throw beads down on to New Orleans Square from the balconies. Those of us who aren’t allowed in are OK with it, mostly because we don’t think about it. We aren’t made to feel ostracized.
So, too, when we outsiders finally are able to finagle a reservation (through a friend’s neighbor’s mailman’s uncle), we come to realize that Club 33’s greatest asset is not its fine food, liquor or opulent furnishings—but its mystique. It’s a thrill to be in on the secret, to relax in what was intended to be Walt’s own speakeasy, while tens of thousands of day guests crowd below, oblivious the place even exists.
Admittedly, that mystique has become a little more mainstream over the years. The Club has expanded its membership rolls, particularly through the addition of countless corporate members. It has increasingly played host to charity buffets and other public events. And, its secrets can now be found in stories and photos all around the Internet (not to mention in those wacky behind-the-scenes books).
But that mystique is going to take to even bigger hit, once Club 33 undergoes its massive overhaul. When the renovation is complete in time for next summer, the facility will take up even more upstairs acreage, lose many of the historic touches and treasures that have contributed to its lore (the tiny lobby, the antique elevator, the Trophy Room), receive a more noticeable entryway than a non-descript green door with a simple “33” plaque, and extend into spaces that are, as of yet, still open to the general public.
Initial construction is just a month away, which begins with the shuttering of the L’Ornament Magique shop and the lovely Court of Angels. Phase one kicks off with installation of a new elevator in the courtyard, next to Le Bat en Rouge. The second-story “bridge” between and above Le Bat and the Arribas Bros Crystal Shop will then be widened and strengthened. L’Ornament Magique will be transformed into the club’s new entrance and check-in area. And, a stained glass overlay will be applied to the Court of Angels’ wrought iron gate, suggesting the courtyard will serve as the club’s lobby and presumably be closed off to the public.
No exact date has been leaked for when the restaurant will shut down for construction, but I’ve heard guesses of a start date as late as early January. But the last day for the Court of Angels as we know it is September 28.
“Cast members have been telling guests to take their pictures of the Court of Angels before the September date,” said one insider. “The overall mood has been downcast in New Orleans Square. It is no doubt the courtyard will become part of the Club. And the feeling is it will be closed off to the general public. The Club itself has not made any statement to say otherwise.”