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 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.
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.
The Grolier Club was established in 1884 by printing press manufacturer Robert Hoe and his eight bibliophile companions. They named their institution after the great Renaissance book collector, Jean Grolier, and adopted the mission to promote "the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper, their art, history, production, and commerce. " To this day, the Grolier Club champions that cause and totals nearly 800 members. Though membership is by nomination only, anyone is permitted to apply for library privileges, visit exhibitions, and attend lectures. The Grolier Club Library holds over 100, 000 works centered on the topics of books, authors, printing, typography, publishing, and book collecting. It also boasts 60, 000 volumes of "bookseller and book auction catalogues. "As the former owner of a children's bookstore, imagine my enthusiasm when I learned of the show that coincided with my walk across 60th Street. Perusing "One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature" was an absolute highlight in the middle of a brisk January day. I found it fascinating to discover which books the curators chose to be their top choices. Amongst the collection of literature, I stared at Lewis Carroll's personal notated copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and an original watercolor illustration from Madeline. I would have loved to have listened to the 45 record that they had displayed behind the glass, as it was Kate Thompson, herself, reading Eloise. Of course, the classics Pat the Bunny, Good Night Moon and the Little Engine That Could were on display, as well as a first edition publication of the modern favorite Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, as it is known in its country of origin. While speaking with Grolier's head of PR, she assured me that each of the exhibits that pass through the club are of this same fine quality and cover a wide range of subjects from Mao's infamous Red Book to collections of pop-up books. She encouraged me to visit the upstairs exhibit on the WWII French Occupation, Resistance, and Liberation. Naturally, I did. Ascending the steps lined with portraits of influential persons from the club's past, I found myself in the quaint, second floor gallery that houses a large selection of pieces from club members' private collections. At the end of the hall, in a warm salon with a rust orange velvet sofa and homey fireplace – the perfect reading nook for any bibliophile - I rounded the room to take in the WWII exhibit examining this turbulent period in world history. While most private clubs on the side streets of Manhattan do not allow non-members past the front door, Grolier's hospitality was completely unexpected and very much appreciated, and there is no doubt that I will return to honor the printed page.
Although filled to the brim inside, the adventure begins simply by gazing through the impressive windows of John Salibello's three antique lighting shops on East 60th. The dazzling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling at No. 211 were only the beginning, for upon entering, I learned that the excitement extends back into an even more inspiring gilded maze where every inch of space is utilized to display the carefully curated collection, both upstairs and down a flight. Lori Gray, the store's manager, spoke to me about John Salibello's origins. It turns out that she is one of the best people to do so, as she has been by John's side for years - ever since he was working in the fashion industry. Lori followed John when he left Benetton, as he had become a close friend and she "deeply respected his taste. " I learned from Lori that John was one of the first people to deal in Mid-Century Modern design, "probably because he opened his business just as it was becoming temporarily distant enough to be desirable. " Breaking new ground, he found his stride and has stayed true to it ever since. John's knowledge of the period is extensive, but he makes a point of not being driven by a particular designer, despite their fame. As Lori explained, "He can "talk that talk, " but in the end, John travels the world searching for beautiful pieces, no matter what their origin. "This is why he has been so successful as a trend-setter, " Lori proudly stated. Most items are vintage, but there are some custom-made objects, such as a row or colorful glass boxes made by an artist from Murano. The employees chimed in during a conversation one day, sharing with me how they enjoyed having input into the color combinations for each one. The staff is a crucial part of this well-oiled machine. As one woman put it, they are in charge of the "visualization of the store - John does the buying and we set it up and then sell it. " They are also meticulous about maintaining the inventory, as every piece is always gleaming, a hard outcome to achieve in a store filled with so much glass. John Salibello's triumph in the furniture world also has a lot to do with its location. Because the store is in the design district, everything is in one place, making it easy for interior designers and their clients. When engaging in conversation with John, himself, one day, he expanded on his concept of three boutiques on one street. "We have a tremendous amount of inventory, as that is what our customers prefer. " He said that he loves 60th, but because he cannot house everything in one location, he has chosen to take over additional retail space, while remaining in the same neighborhood. John explained that just the shear size of the pieces he finds requires more room, and then went on to say that he is pleased that his shops are in demand, as people like what he carries and he is forever finding new things to add. As John expressed, "if you want to be spectacular, this is the only way to do it. "
Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad. While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home. "Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You, " are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls. )As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.
As we walked into Christ Church, one of the members of the Sideways team commented, "Sometimes it's good to feel small, and that's exactly how I feel right now. " The United Methodist congregation has called Park Avenue home since 1929. In shades of gold and deep blues, the stunning metallic, mosaicked ceiling supported by towering marble columns glistened over our heads. The tiled patterns, however, were not completed until 1949, due to World War II. High on the walls, larger-than-life icons stared down upon us as we sat in the rows of traditional wooden pews for prayer and meditation. Despite the sheer size of the sanctuary, we did not feel intimidated or unwelcome; rather, a sense of peace and calm came over each of us, making this the perfect haven for rest in the midst of the bustling streets of the Upper East Side.
Sopra, located above Amali and owned by the same restaurant group, is a communal dining concept that creates the feeling of an upscale dinner party. In this elegant, high-ceilinged former apartment, up to twenty people can sit at a long table next to the open kitchen and eat a family-style meal. It allows Rachel Goulet, the chef for both Amali and Sopra, to serve up dishes that are impractical to prepare in single portions for a traditional restaurant. What has quickly become most popular are the porchetta (a classic Italian roast pig) and the Roman lamb, a recipe typically made during the Easter season using the whole animal. Sopra not only provides an unconventional style of dining where strangers are encouraged to socialize both with each other and with the chef, but it also provides an education in sustainable food. The meals served at Sopra are "super local and hyper-seasonal, " Steve Breslawski, the events coordinator for both restaurants, explained. Guests receive an interactive and informative lesson in how food can taste if you pay attention to what is available at different times of the year. The patrons that dine at Sopra are often more adventurous eaters, Steve said, than those who frequent Amali - they are eager to taste the unusual meats that are presented, such as wild boar, beef heart and sweet meats. (Note that vegetarians are welcome to order from Amali's menu if Sopra's offerings are too carnivorous)Sopra is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, but it is also available for private events. Large rolling bars separate the space from the "Fireplace Room, " a cozy smaller area that can be rented out separately or as part of Sopra. As I was admiring the photographs that line Sopra's walls, Steve told me that they are pictures of the staff's family, which indeed add to the warmth and comfort of this venue.
I believe we saw one of the great wonders of the world when we were invited into the kitchen to see Philippe Chow work. The original chef for Mr. Chow's on East 57th Street for some twenty plus years and the man for whom the restaurant is named, Philippe’s speed and skill with a wok is unparalleled. After exiting the amazing heat and chaos roaring from Philippe’s metaphoric engine room, Steve Boxer, one of the very kind owners, exclaimed “And this is just lunch! ”The kitchen was the last stop on a tour of Philippe’s impressive restaurant, which includes several special places to indulge in the fine menu. There is a sleek, newly renovated bar, an expansive upstairs complete with its own bar, and a classic dining room with black banquettes and white tablecloths, known as the “Runway Room” for all the celebrities it attracts. One of the hidden highlights was the double wine cellar, which has tables and chairs set up between the rows of wine bottles, making for a more private, cozy, nocturnal setting. Guests sitting below ground can select their own music to play on the separate sound system using iPods or watch the flatscreen TV. At the end of our tour, Steve brought us to the “Skylight Room, ” which he says is a favorite spot for families, since it has a lot of natural light and has booth seating for kids to sprawl on, if necessary. It was clear to us that there is a place to sit for anyone, whether casual or classy, depending on one's mood. We sat down in the Skylight Room to enjoy some of Philippe's signature dishes and to continue our conversation with Steve. The Manhattan Sideways Team sampled the green prawns with carrots, mushrooms, and cashews, the vegetarian lettuce wrap with plum sauce, and the Beijing chicken with walnuts. Of the last dish, Steve said, “It’s like candy! ” and biting into one of the impossibly sweet walnuts, I agreed with him. He explained that there were healthy options, such as steamed vegetables and fish, and that they would be launching a light summer menu that he hoped would remain all year, including an eggplant dish and poached salmon. Ultimately, though, Steve believes that people do not come to Philippe to keep to their diet. He smirked and said, “Personally, I come here to sin. ”Steve sat and ate with us, and we were delighted to find that the owner of such a highly regarded restaurant was so down-to-earth and willing to chat. At one point he took out his phone to show us a picture of his dog in a baseball cap and had to flip past numerous photos of Rihanna’s party that she catered through Philippe the night before, perfectly demonstrating his friendly, casual nature. Steve is Manhattan born-and-bred, and so he knows exactly what New Yorkers want out of a restaurant. He has a lot of exciting plans for the Philippe empire: "I have closed quite a few locations recently, in an effort to regroup and reopen ten times better than before, " he explained. He continued, “I joined this venture looking for my own version of Cheers. I love it. ” He then mentioned that when he was finished showing off his east 64th Street location to us, he was headed to the Hamptons where he is about to open another Philippe. In addition to spending time with Steve and Chef Philippe, we met Kostas Paterakis, the floor manager and pastry chef. Due to his interesting combination of jobs (manning the floor and baking his treats), he often finds himself alone in the kitchen creating delectable desserts well into the night. He was not complaining, however, but declaring that he does his best work when left alone to experiment. The unexpected list of dazzling desserts on the Chinese menu include red velvet cake, apple cobbler, and selection of sorbets. "And everything is made in-house, " Steve proudly announced, and it all comes from what Steve calls “Kostas's little Betty Crocker Oven. ”We enjoyed observing the repartee between Kostas and Steve: After receiving a compliment from the owner, Kostas said, “I’d buy you a drink if it wasn’t your place. ” Later he said of Steve, “He listens to us as much as the customers, which is a big deal to the staff. He’s a great owner. ” Then he turned with an impish grin to Steve: “That’s what you told me to say, right? " Steve rebutted with, “I am blessed with the most loyal, trusting group of people. They treat this place like it’s their own. ”