This was on my bucket list. I may never be a member, but access to this exclusive club in Disneyland felt like a must for this long time annual passholder. I have the great fortune to have a friend who has a friend who’s father is a member. Still with me? While I might not be anything special, thankfully someone in the Stacey Kinsella pipeline is.
Located on the second floor of New Orleans Square, lucky guests look down at the crowds as they are treated to an elegant dining experience. Walt needed a classy hideaway to entertain potential sponsors and dignitaries at the park. Thus, a VIP restaurant was born. It is also near the suite that he and Roy were to share above the Pirates of the Caribbean. The current entry door is next to The Blue Bayou and is painted a secretive, subdued grey. The shiny ’33’ plaque is all that marks this quiet lair.
With reservation in hand, we arrived at Club 33 mere minutes before our scheduled time. The staff doesn’t like keeping guests waiting, but won’t grant you access until they are absolutely ready for you. So here’s how the door dance went….To the left, there are two brass call boxes. You lift the small knob below one of them to find the buzzer. You buzz and wait. Passersby look at you and wonder why you are special, waiting to catch a glimpse when the door cracks. A staff member cracks the door and asks for your name, then disappears. You wait. Then she pops out again after verifying your reservation. You are invited into the foyer.
The foyer is small, but stylish. A room with rich red wallpaper and wood paneling, this is where the hostess takes your coat, verifies your table is ready, and sends you on your way. You have a choice – walk up the stairs or take the ornate French lift. The lift wasn’t functioning the night we were there, but if you ever go and it’s open, take it.
The club is not huge. There are two dining rooms and a gallery that serves as a classy waiting area. In the gallery – and throughout the club – you will find many unique pieces. Keeping with the style of the square, Walt and Lillian Disney took special care to choose beautiful 19th Century antiques from New Orleans’ French Quarter. You will also find original artists’ renderings, the foyer table from Mary Poppins, the phone booth from The Happiest Millionaire, and an intricately painted harpsichord. The phone inside the booth supposedly works and guests are welcome to use it. The harpsichord has supposedly enjoyed the fine fingers of Elton John when he pops by for a nice meal. The bar is at the end of the gallery, right across from the harpsichord. The hanging glass beads make this small corner shimmer in the low lighting. A perfect way to entice you into the next space: the main dining room.
The main dining room is lovely. Rich blues and golds wrap around the windows and chandeliers. The wood molding is thick, the dining tables are classy, and the atmosphere is regal. I especially loved the complicated way in which they folded the cloth napkins at each setting. There is access to the outside balcony which allows the guests to get some fresh air and watch the Disney crowd pass by. Please note that there is no smoking anywhere in the club. Not even the balcony.
The other dining room is the Trophy Room. This space is smaller, more informal and boasts a masculine motif. In its original design, the room was adorned with game and hunting pieces. Now it is less game, more boardroom. The walls are covered in wood paneling instead of the more feminine wallpaper. You will still find a few birds on the mantel, a rifle signed by Fess Parker, framed butterflies, and there is one animatronic vulture in the corner if the room. This guy is an original piece that was poised to speak with guests. Small microphones in the chandeliers told a staff member in a sound room the main scuttlebutt. Then the vulture would pipe in and give his two cents. While the system has long been disconnected, the vulture still gazes down at diners. To ensure that his guests were having a good time, Walt requested that a two-way mirror be installed outside the Trophy Room. The mirror is locked behind a wall panel for safe peeking.
We ate in the main dining room and I thoroughly enjoyed the elegance of it. The staff was friendly, but formal. The tables had ornate display dishes that were exchanged for simple meal plates. Each time a guest left his/her seat, someone came by to refold their napkin. The chef served everyone an amuse bouche comprised of crab meat and phyllo dough with a grapefruit juice shooter on the side. My Chateaubriand – their signature dish – was flavorful. I will note that it was a bit crispy on the outside, but the meat inside was tender and juicy. For dessert, I had the s’mores. It is exactly what you expect as far as it’s contents, but it was artfully designed into geometric blocks making it more classy than campfire.
We did step out on the balcony to watch Fantasmic and enjoy the view of the masses below. Thanks to a beautiful tree, however, this is an obstructed view. Even the elite have to suffer somehow.
So if you are a lucky bugger and get access to this hidden gem, here are a few final thoughts for your visit. The dress code for dinner includes slacks and collared shirts for men, informal dress or pants and blouse for women. No shorts. The coat closet in the foyer houses a variety of collared shirts in all sizes, just in case. The dress code is slightly more relaxed if you are going for lunch. Cell phones are not to be used in the dining rooms, so switch to vibrate before entering. Expect dinner to run about $200 per couple. Souvenirs such as key chains, shot glasses, pins and polo shirts are available for purchase. There is a very long wait list if you’d like to explore becoming a member. It’s approximately $10,000/year with a hefty initiation fee (I believe somewhere in the ballpark of $25,000). Corporate memberships are also available. Members have access to the new 1901 lounge in Disney California Adventure. By the way, to access 1901, the member must be present. No third generation reservations like the one I happily obtained. Club 33 will be going through some renovations in the next year. The kitchen will be expanded, a new lounge area will be added, and the entry will be relocated. There will be a variety of other modifications to upgrade the space to better capture Walt’s earlier visions. Guess I will have to finagle another ticket to ride when it’s all complete. Fingers crossed.
My night at Club 33 was pretty darn great. I got to see what was hidden behind that grey door, see where Walt hoped to entertain his private guests and investors, and unwrap another layer of Disney mystery. I am very grateful to the friends of friends who made it happen and I hope some of you get to experience this exclusive restaurant as well. If not, you at least now know what’s concealed above New Orleans Square. Besides, Walt himself didn’t get to walk into the door either. Obviously, you are in great company.