There was good reason why it only took us 5 minutes to get ready. Because when we arrived in our room, we only had 10 minutes until we said we’d meet the Works (and Katie, Work-to-be). We exited the room with 5 minutes to get from our hotel door to New Orleans Square.
Few thought such a feat could be accomplished, but thanks to our swift legs, we…fell short by about 5 minutes. Usually in these race-against-the-clock scenarios at Disney, we perform surprisingly well. In this case, the heat plus our heavy attire plus Sarah’s high heels made for insurmountable obstacles. We still hurried, which was probably a mistake, as I was a sweaty mess when we arrived in NOS. The frenzied pace turned my already sunburned skin even more red, making me sweaty and red. Perfect!
Luckily, we were still 15 minutes early for our reservation, something we planned so that we could take some photos outside of the restaurant. We spent some time doing exactly this, and about 5 minutes before our set reservation time, decided it was time.
For those unfamiliar with Disneyland history, 33 Royal Street, the location of Club 33, is arguably the most “famous” address among Disney fans. Access to the Club is by membership (or as the guest of a member) only, the existence of the restaurant is denoted only by a cryptic “33” sign near the entrance to the restaurant.
We started our voyage into Club 33 by heading to the doorway where I pressed a speak-easy style speaker-box. After a couple of seconds, a voice came over the other side of the intercom, and asked for our information. A few seconds later, we were buzzed inside. A few minutes early for our reservation, we were held in the lobby until the exact time of our reservation.
No matter how much I had read about the restaurant and despite all of the photos I had seen online, I was blown away as I was enveloped in the sea of rich burgundy and ornate details. Everything about the lobby was lavish. Although I wasn’t around back in the 20s, it felt like what I envision the inside of a ritzy 20s speak-easy looking like.
Much like the Lilly Belle, it appeared as if it had remained in pristine condition since 1967. Right then, I knew the ambiance alone would justify the cost of the experience. I cannot fully stress how important it is to view this restaurant as an experience and not a meal. If you’re considering dining at Club 33 and you don’t really care about Disney history, don’t.
Immediately visible in the lobby is the most impressive piece of Club 33 lore, the French Lift. These lifts were frequently used in the late 1800’s, but are now quite rare. They were similarly rare when Club 33 was being constructed. When shopping in France with his wife, Lillian, Walt spotted a French Lift he immediately had to have in an older hotel. He tried to purchase the elevator, but the hotel would not sell the elevator (uhh…did they not recognize Walt FREAKIN’ Disney?! They should have given the thing to him, along with any other elevator in the premises, even if he didn’t request them!), so Walt had artists and engineers (Imagineers) visit the hotel to study the lift so that they could replicate the lift with necessary modernizations. If you dine at Club 33, you’d be remiss if you didn’t take the lift.
As you step out of the elevator, you begin to notice all of the exquisite details that give Club 33 such a rich history. Our table was ready, so we would have to soak in these details later.
The lights were low and uneven, and the dining room was a veritable sea of burgundy. These conditions made photographs especially difficult. On top of that, my go-to lens for such occasions, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, had broken earlier in the trip. My next fastest lens, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 had too much ‘zoom’ for such confined spaces, so I’d be forced to use the ultra-wide angle and fisheye lenses almost entirely. This was really disappointing, as the results with these two lenses aren’t nearly as good as what I could have accomplished with the Sigma 30. I toyed with the idea of converting all of the photos here to black and white, as I think they’d look better that way due to the harsh lighting and the overwhelming burgundy, but ultimately decided to retain color in most to convey the appearance of the restaurant as accurately as I could. C’est la vie.
As we wanted to see Fantasmic! from the balcony when we made our reservations, we went for dinner. Unfortunately, Fantasmic! was not showing on this particular night, as work had begun in the Rivers of America for the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides World Premiere.
Almost immediately after sitting down, we got right back up to take photos with the last bit of daylight that was quickly fading into the distance. The view over New Orleans Square was nice, but definitely left something to be desired with the POTC4 construction taking place. It was quite impressive, nonetheless.
After we finished taking photos, we started our dinner with drinks. A meal at Club 33 is the only way you’ll ever (within the park rules, at least) consume alcohol in Disneyland, so we were not going to pass up this opportunity. Not really knowing what to order (the beer list didn’t sound appealing), I opted for a gin and tonic. Given the surroundings, I wanted a drink that seemed like it was straight off of the set from Mad Men. I realized I don’t really have a taste for gin and tonic, but it seemed fairly good. Had a kick to it but the alcohol wasn’t overpowering. More importantly, it made me feel dapper as I held it up to the light and furrowed my brow, so it had accomplished its task.
For dinner, we had two options, a seasonal five-course prix fixe menu and an a la carte appetizer and entrée menu. Everyone at our table chose the a la carte menu, which required spending the cost of a one-day park ticket. This requirement is almost laughable, as each of our meals easily exceeded twice the cost of a one-day park ticket. Sarah and I ordered the same appetizer, the crab cake.
Unlike many crab cakes that are composed primarily of filler, these crab cakes are almost completely crab. The “other stuff” is there, presumably, just to hold them together and give them some additional flavor. The sauce was rich and creamy, which was the perfect compliment to the lump crab meat. The sauce definitely provided a good balance to the flavor and made the already moist crab cakes (few things are worse than a dry crab cake) even more succulent.
For the main course, we again both ordered the same thing, the Chateaubriand. We had heard from Club 33 members on the Lilly Belle that the Chateaubriand was to die for, and it looked to be one of the best options on the menu, so we opted for it. Upon seeing it, we had high expectations. It was a thick cut, dosed in a Cabernet reduction and beautifully garnished with mashed potatoes and baby tomatoes. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving.
The filet did not cut easily, our first sign that something was amiss. It was not all that tender and not especially flavorful. Likewise, the potatoes tasted as if they were prepared from a box. The Cabernet reduction was the one star of the meal, and it was excellent and would have weaved together with a superior piece of meat, say the filet I had earlier in the trip at Napa Rose, most excellently. The Chateaubriand was by no means terrible, but I would probably place it in the bottom 10% of all $40+ plates of food I have had in my life. I was somewhat hopeful that maybe my specific cut was an anomaly, but no one at our table was overly-positive about their meal. It was still good, just not nearly what I expected after all of the hype and given the $47 price.
Here are the entrees the Works ordered:
Dessert was next, and while my selections for the appetizer and entree were clear almost immediately upon seeing the menu, dessert presented more of a dilemma. Many of the choices sounded great; I needed to choose carefully as this was Club 33’s last chance at redeeming itself for the sub-par entree.
Perhaps it was the delightfully strong gin and tonic setting in, but the Mascarpone Lemon Cheese Cake and a Banana’s Foster’s Caramel Reduction really hit the spot. Rich and decadent, with an exquisite presentation, the two “sides” of the dessert contrasted each other well, without being too stark. A very imaginative dessert, to be sure, and an excellent conclusion to the meal.
With regard to the food specifically, even though the drinks were good, the appetizer was great and the dessert was great, the sub-par entree really impacted the ultimate score I’d give the cuisine (a B-). Similarly, our service was poor, as our waiter seemed pre-occupied throughout the meal. I’m not sure if this was because we weren’t actual members or what, but it also impacts that score a bit.
I earlier alluded to the fact that the Chateaubriand, purportedly one of the top menu items, was a sub-par item for this tier of restaurant. As I said at the outset, Club 33 is not a restaurant, it is the ultimate Disney fan experience, which happens to include a meal. Club 33 is not the most-sought after and elusive experience for Disney fans, with a closed waiting list because of its reputation as an exceptional restaurant. If you want to dine at an exceptional restaurant at Disneyland, you should be heading across the Esplanade to Napa Rose. There’s no waiting list there, the food is easily twice as good, and the prices are substantially less.
No, Club 33 is the Disney Holy Grail because of its history and exclusiveness. There is truly nothing else like it in the Disney universe. You don’t eat there because of the food, you eat there because of the ambiance.
Thankfully, during the course of the meal, our waiter offered to give us a post-dinner tour of the Club. We immediately and enthusiastically accepted his offer. Although I wanted to savor the experience as much as possible, this tour was in the back of my mind throughout dinner, and I was quite excited for the tour to arrive.
The tour was interesting, to say the least. By the time we were finished eating, the room of the restaurant where we were seated was fairly empty, with the exception of a couple of tables, meaning that our tour would not be rushed, nor would it interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of their meals.
Our waiter mixed history of the restaurant with news and “facts” about the parks. I use air-quotes around facts because many of these facts were far from facts. An example of such a fact was his description of the Carthay Circle Theater (or as he called it, “Carthaway”) replica being built at DCA that had it housing a Snow White attraction that, to the best of my knowledge, is not being built). Because I know many of the information he presented to us regarding the Parks was incorrect, I am hesitant to transcribe the facts that I cannot verify concerning Club 33, as I don’t want to perpetuate even more misinformation about the Club, Wikipedia style!
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