This post contains our photos and review of lunch at Club 33, the private membership restaurant in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, which recently underwent a dramatic redesign and expansion. Well, “recently” and “new look” might not be entirely accurate. At this point, it was about a year and a half ago, so this is old news in terms of Disney updates. However, given that the previous look of Club 33 had lasted from 1967 until 2014, this is still the “new look,” relatively speaking.
We are extremely fortunate to have been able to experience both dinner and lunch at the original Club 33. You can read about the history of Club 33 in our dinner post. I’m not going to revisit all of that in this post. From a practical perspective, I realize this “review” is going to be helpful to virtually no one. For one, the menu has already changed since our recent lunch at Club 33. More importantly, few people are going to pass up the opportunity to dine at Club 33 for the first time. If we are all being honest with ourselves, most of us would jump at the opportunity to experience Club 33 due to the exclusivity and history of the place.
No review is going to change that. I debated for a while as to whether I would even write this review for that very reason. Plus, at what point does sharing experiences at Club 33 go from being informative and interesting, to being boastful and entitled? It’s in no way my intent to boast, so hopefully the post doesn’t come across that way. In the end, though, my prevailing thought is: “dammit, we spent a lot of money on this meal, I’m going to at least get one blog post out of it!” 😉
To that end, rather than fixate on particular aspects of our meal, I’m going to share some photos of it, the interiors of the restaurant, and high-level thoughts on our experience at Club 33. Hopefully it’s interesting to some of you…
A lot of critical commentary has already been written about the Club 33 redesign, so I’ll jump headfirst into that. My biggest problem with the new-look Club 33 is that a large chunk of its history has been gutted, and replaced with generic high-end finishings. I understand the need to balance history with a lavish, modern guest experience. Balance is the operative word, and my issue with the redesign is that the “balance” struck was an awful one. Rather than paying tribute to the rich history that underscores Club 33, there are but a few superficial nods to that history, and they range from weak at best to offensively bad at worst.
For us, the previous allure of visiting Club 33 was its history that is now largely absent. While Walt Disney passed shortly before Club 33 opened its doors, it was still his Club. His designs, his details, his vision. Now, it is not. The original lobby and Trophy Room are both gone. The storied French Lift has been converted into a booth for one (who on earth thought this was a good idea?!). Other beloved details have been removed.
There are a few scattered items of historical import, but they are scattered about like overt homages to the original Club 33, rather than actual elements of the new Club’s design. Before, Club 33 oozed history. As a guest you felt like you were dining in Walt Disney’s private club. It was enchanting and truly magical to step into a place that was simultaneously a dignified social club and also such a treasured piece of Disney history.
With the rich history of Club 33 gone, I found myself left wondering what separates Club 33 from any ‘ole private membership club in Los Angeles or Orange County. As I’m not a member of any such clubs, the question is at least somewhat rhetorical, but the only answer I can produce is “it’s in Disneyland.”
I’m sure this remains enough of a selling point to keep demand high for new memberships, as companies and individuals want to be able to entertain business partners and guests at an exclusive club in Disneyland. There are myriad private membership clubs in the area each with some sort of unique draw, but nothing else has this unique draw.
No matter what Disneyland does to Club 33, demand is unlikely to ever dry up–there’s too much corporate and private wealth in the area and the appeal of an exclusive club in Disneyland is too much. Club 33 could be redesigned to a glorified Red Lobster, and I think that sufficient membership demand would remain.
I’ll admit my thoughts here are at least partially colored by bitterness. I’m bitter that Club 33 annexed Court of Angels, a wonderful quiet spot that was one of my favorite in Disneyland. I’m bitter about negative ways its expansion hurt the aesthetics of New Orleans Square. I’m bitter that whomever was heading up this project, both in Imagineering and Team Disney Anaheim management, did not respect Disneyland history.
All of this actually made me feel guilty about returning to Club 33. By going back, I was giving tacit approval to everything that made me bitter. Actions speak louder than words, and visiting made me a hypocrite. In my case, it rendered my protests about what happened to Court of Angels meaningless. I justified it by telling myself that the damage was long done and irreversible, and my visit wasn’t going to change anything. (Still, I’m a hypocrite–I should’ve kept my word and never gone back.)
With that said, to fixate entirely on the negative of the new-look Club 33 would require neglecting the many significant upgrades made around Club 33. The hallway leading to the dining room is lovely, and has a nice sense of sophistication to it.
The art choices throughout the restaurant are nice, with many pieces reflecting designs for Disneyland, New Orleans Square, especially.
The new restrooms are excellent, and will certainly earn a spot on the inevitable best bathrooms at Disneyland list!
Likewise, the new upstairs entrance area looks nice, with a lot of detail and texture in the floor and ceiling.
These are just a few examples, and there are plenty of other positive changes. I don’t necessarily think the original Club 33 felt tired or dated, but it definitely needed some refreshes. The new-look Club 33 does not have those issues, and the overall feeling is one of well-appointed sophistication. By and large, I found the design choices to be good.
There’s a lot of Art Nouveau infused into the redesign, and I’m not entirely sure why. Some of it is well-integrated, but in other cases, it feels like “Art Nouveau Riche.” Excessive ornamentation for its own sake, as if to flaunt its own fanciness and say, “look at me…I’m rich design!” Same goes with overuse of the logo–Club 33 is a dignified club, not an ostentatious LV handbag.
In terms of design, I loved the look of the new Salon Nouveau Jazz Lounge, but that’s another topic for another day, I think.
Then, there’s the new Club 33 menu.
Club 33 brought in Chef Andrew Sutton, who also heads Napa Rose and Carthay Circle Restaurant, two of Disney’s most inspired dining options anywhere in the world.
His work on the Club 33 menu likewise improved it dramatically.
While some members and guests lament the loses of favorites (we were particularly fond of the lunch buffet), the new menu is exciting and ever-changing.
The old menu reminded me a bit of a traditional country club, where people would come week in and out to order the same tried and true favorites.
By contrast, the new menu is inventive and pushes the envelope, presumably going for and more chic and upscale vibe.
I’d be curious as to how members feel about this. My preference is on the side of the inventive menu, as it would would make every visit feel unique and fresh, but I could see many members favoring the familiarity and memories of revisiting their favorites, like that famous Chateaubriand. I could certainly get used to having that every week!
As impressed as I was with the menu, it was not enough to save the experience. I know that seems silly to say given that Club 33 is ostensibly just a restaurant, but it’s really so much more–or was, at least. For me, Club 33 was an elegant experience in Disneyland and Walt Disney history with a dining component. Now, it is just a private fine dining restaurant.
Overall, the new-look Club 33 was a disappointment in the regards that mattered most to me. I’m glad I got to see it once, but once is enough. The restaurant feels more upscale and there are definite improvements in design and menu, but that misses the point. There are literally hundreds of upscale restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area, many of which do fine dining better. Ripping out the history–the heart and soul of Club 33–was too great of a price for making it feel fancier. None of this will stop it from being popular and a bucket list location for Disney fans. There’s an inherent appeal to things that are exclusive, and we all want to be places where we can’t normally go. I’m not immune to it, so it would be silly and condescending for me to say, “pass up a visit to Club 33 if you have the chance.”
The allure of exclusive experiences is instinctual, I think. Heck, I even see it in our cat. He has no interest in any room until the door to it is shut, and then he rattles at the door until we open it, only to lose interest totally once the door is wide open. Likewise, I think most Disney fans would lose interest in the new-look Club 33 if the door were wide open to the general public and the menu–with prices–were posted out front. Aside from exclusivity, there’s nothing Club 33 has that Napa Rose and Carthay Circle Restaurant don’t.
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What do you think of the changes made to Club 33 and New Orleans Square? Do you think it was all worth it? Do you like or dislike the changes made to Club 33? Share your thoughts in the comments!