Inside United Airlines’ secret restaurant at Newark airport

If you’re walking through Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport, you might have no idea that you’re passing right by one of the most sought-after restaurants in the New York area. Down a secret hallway, you’ll find a speakeasy that meets fine dining. It’s called Classified. Here your taste buds will delight – if you can score an invite.

The invite-only restaurant has just 36 seats and is steps from your gate, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave. Its exclusive guest list boasts CEOs and celebrities like Madonna.

“It’s very much like New York. It’s secret, I actually had to take a little time to find it, the hostess was very discrete, so I felt very special,” United frequent flyer Brie Morrow said. She was one of the first invited to make a reservation. 

“I just had oysters, and I’m eating a very fresh salad with shrimp, so I appreciate being able to have a healthy meal with a nice glass of wine,” Morrow said. 

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The menu and wine list rivals anything you’d see at a trendy New York City restaurant. A meal can easily set you back $100 a person – and that’s if you don’t order a $500+ bottle of wine.

James Beard Award-winning chef Nate Appleman is the vice president of culinary for OTG, the restaurant company that teamed with United Airlines to turn a mostly forgotten meeting room into Classified. We spoke with Appleman as he prepared a 42-ounce Tomahawk steak, one of their signature dishes.

“Most airports have prepackaged food that’s been cooked before and someone is reheating in a microwave,” Appleman said. “Here we are cooking from scratch, we are using great product, and you can’t find that anywhere.”

“We wanted to create a really unique space that’s kind of out of the way, little bit of speakeasy … but somewhere where you can just enjoy a great meal, listen to some nice music, have a delicious glass of wine, take it easy, get yourself away from everything else,” OTG CEO Rick Blatstein said.

“People don’t think of Newark airport as a spot for trendy dining,” Van Cleave said.

“They don’t, but they soon will,” said Rick Hoefling, United Airlines vice president of Newark operations. 

The airline looks at Classified as a way to “surprise and delight.” But who gets invited? “There’s not one perspective or one way we look at the invitation list. Right now that’s classified and it does remain a secret,” Hoefling said. 

“Was the idea to create one of the most elite restaurants in New York here in the Newark airport?” Van Cleave asked.

“We didn’t set out to make the most elite restaurant and the most difficult to get into, but it kind of worked out that way,” Blatstein said.

An email invitation is your ticket inside. For United flyers who haven’t gotten one yet, they can request an invitation, but United won’t say how long the waitlist is. 

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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