In 1852, six men with similar interests formed a club and called themselves "Gesellschaft, " a word that means "community and society" in German. This group would grow and solidify into the Harmonie Club, the second oldest private club in New York after the Union Club. All six of them were German Jews, and therefore were denied access to the Union Club because of religious discrimination. Much has changed since the Club's founding: at the beginning, a qualification for membership was German ancestry, and communal singing and declamatory contests were popular. Today, one must still be invited to join; however, the emphasis on musical interests has been lost. The building is also different - in 1905, the Club moved from its original 42nd Street location to its current Beaux Arts residence, complete with a grand, elegant dining room that is still in service. Despite all these changes, the Harmonie Club remains a place where the leaders and achievers of the world can find companionship. The above is the history of Harmonie; however, it is not often that I get to offer my own personal note to places of such distinction. Therefore, I must mention that I was married at the Harmonie Club in 1979. From the moment I became engaged, there was no question in my mind, that this was where I wanted my wedding to be held. My father had been a member of the club for a number of years and I had grown up having the most elaborate Sunday brunches in their exquisite dining room. My husband and I chose not to have the traditional Saturday night affair and, instead, opted for a morning wedding with a brunch motif. Having everyone we adored gathered in this private sanctuary was sheer perfection.
Who would have thought that one could find a golf club so far from a green? One of the most elite golf clubs in the world, the Links is where die-hard golf players go to eat and socialize. Charles Blair Macdonald, a golf champion and founder of the United States Golf Association, started the Links in 1917 as a place where powerful members of the golf world could keep the true spirit of the game alive. The magnificent Georgian townhouse that is home to the club was built in 1890 and features four floors and a mansard roof. There is no sign: it is only recognizable by the flags waving outside.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”
Established in 1904, The Explorers Club is centered on scientific discovery in all realms - land, sea, air and space. Its original headquarters were located at the Studio Building on West 67th Street, and it moved to this location in 1965. In 1918, a signature flag was introduced, capitalizing on historic routes and unabated curiosity. Since then, the flag has been proudly carried on hundreds of expeditions as members of the club were the first to make it to the North and South Poles, the summit of Mt. Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and the surface of the moon. The club first allowed women in 1981. To this day, it is a meeting spot for all kinds of explorers, scientists and students.
The National Arts Club has been promoting American artists and educating the public about the arts and art criticism since its founding in 1898. Located across from Gramercy Square Park, the Club is housed in the Tilden Mansion, a stunning, double-wide sandstone rowhouse built in the 1840s that was redesigned and re-ornamented by Calvert Vaux in the 1870s. The National Arts Club was a pioneer in showing multiple types of art in the same space and for bringing artistic mediums other than painting and sculpture to the cultural forefront. Throughout the years, a long list of highly acclaimed painters, photographers, musicians, architects, and actors have worked extensively with the National Arts Club, including Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, Alfred Stieglitz, Stanford White, Walter Damrosch, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, and Uma Thurman. Members of the Club have also included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight Eisenhower. While the public is invited to view various art shows throughout the year in the galleries down below, members have access to the upstairs dining room, and to the exclusive Gramercy Square Park.
In the early 1900s, a group of women got together and formed a club to help protect women's rights. The organization evolved over the years to become The Women's National Republican Club in 1921. They moved their location two times before settling on 51st Street in 1933, the former site of Andrew Carnegie's home. Today, the Clubhouse works closely with the Republican Party, organizing lectures and meetings. Located inside this historic building is a private dining room, a social club, business center, lounge area and a library for its members. There are a few overnight rooms available to outside guests, as well as elegant event spaces that I was able to view firsthand. In the private guided tour that I had with marketing and sales manager, Louise Scrivines, I stepped outside onto the terrace of the Solarium overlooking St. Patrick's Cathedral, viewed the glistening crystal chandeliers in both the Pratt Lounge and the Grand Ballroom, and wandered into the Lincoln Room. While speaking with chef, Gary Eisenberg - who has been with the club since 2006 - I learned about the many possibilities for weddings and other special functions that each room can accommodate. Intrigued by the antique furniture, tapestries, busts, photographs and paintings hanging on the walls, I learned that most of what the club has amassed has come through donations by founding members from their own private collections. When I commented to Louise that I was so pleased to have discovered a remarkable hidden gem steeped in history on West 51st, her immediate response was, "Yes, The Women's National Republican Club is a gem, but we no longer want to be hidden. "
The University Club is an exclusive sanctuary that does not allow nonmembers to have a look around during the middle of the day; but by striking up a conversation with the doorman and doing my own research, I was able to learn the history of this magnificent building on the corner of Fifth Avenue. The club is older than the building in which it currently resides: it was started by a group of primarily Yale alumni in 1861, and received its charter four years later. In 1899 it moved to 1 West 54th Street, where a nine-story Italian Renaissance Revival palace had been designed and built for the sole purpose of housing the club. The landmarked building features the seals of the oldest East Coast colleges etched into its stately exterior. Its interior is reportedly even more ornate, with soaring ceilings, a reading room, an extensive library collection, and an impressive private art gallery. The club maintains an active member base today, as well as hosting weddings and benefits in its massive dining hall. Unfortunately, tourists will be forced to inspect the club's incredible architecture from the sidewalk and imagine the opulence within.
The Metropolitan Republican’s Club began its life in 1902 as the Republican Club of the 29th District. It originally met on Madison Avenue before moving to the Croyden Hotel in 1929. The current clubhouse was built in 1930. Past and present members include Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, and Rudolph Giuliani.
Having spent much of my younger days on a sailboat, and experiencing motion sickness every time, it was with some trepidation that I approached the New York Yacht Club. Fortunately, this magnificent beaux-arts structure has been firmly anchored on 44th Street since its dedication in 1901. Although it no longer houses the coveted America's Cup trophy, the stern-like windows decorated with seashells and dripping seaweed on the facade, and the well-known Model Room on the inside, still provide enough attraction for mariners and landlubbers alike.
Founded in 1904, The Friars Club is rich with history and tradition. From early on, many of the members were performers of all varieties, quickly establishing The Friars Club as an exclusive meeting place full of extraordinary talent. Over the years, it has become a New York institution, most well-known for its Celebrity Roasts, in which a 'guest of honor' is invited, only to be the punch line of the jokes of the evening - all in good spirit. The first Roast happened in 1949, and the event has been popular ever since. Beginning as an all-male club (as is evident from its name), it moved to its 55th Street location in 1957, and began inviting women to join in 1988. The Friars Foundation, the charity based out of the Friars Club, was established in 1977 and continues to help encourage and facilitate the arts, offering support to aspiring performance groups and scholarships to students.
In 1891, a group of distinguished gentlemen gathered at the Knickerbocker Club, now on 62nd Street, and formed the Metropolitan Club. JP Morgan was their first president and the land that the club stands on was acquired from the Duchess of Marlborough. The main part of the club remained male-only until the 1940s, when women were allowed to leave their special annex and join them.