Private City Clubs

Jun 26, 2016 - 6:45 PM

Comedian Groucho Marx famously once said that he didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member, but he’s clearly in a minority. Many people who can afford to do so join one or more of the private city clubs that operate in most major metropolitan areas in the U.S. and around the world.

That’s understandable, given what the clubs offer. They can serve as both a home away from home and a second office. Many offer work areas and concierge services as well as spas, gyms, salons, and even movie theaters.

Core:, a New York City club, lists more than 380 events in its annual cultural-programming calendar, including conversations with actor/producer Jeremy Piven, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, musician Carlos Santana, and former CBS Entertainment chairwoman Nina Tassler. Cercle de Lorraine in Brussels hosts diplomatic roundtables with ambassadors working in Belgium as well as lunch meetings with personalities in fields such as finance and politics.

Capital Club in Dubai, U.A.E. offers “clubs within the club,” to address members’ interests in such topics as travel and wine. The University Club of Chicago, meanwhile, hosts small groups catering to members interested in subjects such as photography and music-making. As some clubs start to attract a younger demographic, child-friendly events are becoming more common.

Fine dining is virtually always an option. At Core:, for example, James Beard-award-winning chefs join director of culinary operations Bernard Liberatore to develop a menu that changes at least eight times a year. At the University Club of Chicago, the executive chef is Mark Baker, who worked with the Four Seasons resorts for over two decades and has led teams at two restaurants that have received the AAA Five Diamond rating.

Some clubs also offer lodging. The Duquesne Club, in the business and financial district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has 42 hotel rooms and suites for members’ guests that include such amenities as heated marble floors and complimentary access to a health and fitness center. The University Club of Chicago provides lodging to members and guests attending club-sponsored events. Other clubs, such as Washington, D.C.’s The George Town Club, offer overnight accommodations via arrangement with leading area hotels.

Reciprocal agreements expand the benefits of memberships. Many independent clubs have partnered with ones of the same caliber to allow entrance to one another’s members. In other cases, clubs have their own networks. Soho House, which has 15 locations worldwide, offers local memberships as well as a higher-priced option to use all of its clubs. ClubCorp—which owns and operates golf and country clubs in addition to city clubs—gives its members access to all of its more than 200 properties in Washington, D.C., 26 U.S. states, and other countries.

Tapping such benefits typically requires paying an initiation fee—a few hundred dollars to $50,000 or more—and annual dues, which usually run at least several thousand dollars. But to join, you almost invariably have to do more than produce a credit card or check. Many clubs require that prospective members be referred by one or more current members. You may have to be a member of a certain profession or have a college degree. Some clubs have age requirements, though an increasing number welcome the young. (Soho House even offers a child membership.) You may also be subject to interviews to determine whether your personality is a good fit for the club and whether you can provide networking opportunities or mentoring.

Before you go through this process, find out what rules the club imposes on members and make sure you’d be comfortable with them. The Metropolitan Club in New York City, for example, is one of many clubs that require men to wear jackets and ties. (Others, such as Capital Club in Dubai, have relaxed their dress codes in recent years.) To foster distraction-free networking, also, many clubs forbid use of cellular phones or laptops in certain areas. The Metropolitan Club and the Duquesne Club, for instance, permit talking on cell phones only in enclosed booths and other designated locations. Some facilities, such as the Hong Kong Club, allow electronic tablets and similar devices as long as they emit no audible sounds.

Groucho Marx would probably not be pleased by such rules, but the thousands of people who renew their private-club memberships every year don’t seem to mind.


A Sampling of City Clubs

ATLANTA
Commerce Club-Atlanta, (402) 222-0191, commerceclubatlanta.com. Sweeping views of Atlanta and personal wine lockers are among benefits at this club, which boasts state-of-the-art technology in meeting rooms and work spaces. Open to anyone. Initiation fee: $200–$500, depending on age. Monthly dues: $179–$240, depending on age.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
Cercle de Lorraine, +32 2 374 65 25, cercledelorraine.be. Located in a 1910 Belgian chateau. Diplomats and royalty network through organized hunting trips and classic-car excursions.
Application available online. Members must speak French or Flemish. Initiation fee: €1,750 (approx. $2,000). Annual dues: €1,500 (approx. $1,700).

CHICAGO
The University Club of Chicago, (312) 726-2840, ucco.com. The club’s athletics department offers a wide array of facilities, from squash courts to steam rooms, and a staff that can improve a member’s golf game or fitness level. Applicants must have college degree and three letters of recommendation from members. Fees data unavailable.

DUBAI, U.A.E.
Capital Club, +971 4 364 0111, capitalclubdubai.com. Named one of the 10 best clubs in the world by CNN, this 1,500-member facility is in the heart of Dubai’s financial district. Membership by invitation only. Fees data unavailable.

HONG KONG
The Hong Kong Club, +852 2978 9500, thehongkongclub.hk. The library, with nearly 18,000 titles, is a focus of the 1,550-member club, which was founded in 1846. Membership by invitation only. Fees data unavailable.

LONDON
Hurlingham Club, +44 20 7610 7400, hurlinghamclub.org.uk. Located on a 42-acre estate bordering the Thames, the circa-1867 club boasts premier outdoor sporting facilities, including grounds where King Edward VII engaged in pigeon shooting. Prospective members must join a waiting list, which is currently closed. Fees data unavailable.

Reform Club, +44 20 7930 9374, reformclub.com. Once a political headquarters, the club’s 60-foot-high main hall with marble columns is among the stunning features of its stately Renaissance architecture. Members must be nominated by current ones. Initiation fee: £1,842 (approx. $2,600). Annual dues: £1,500 (approx. $2,100). (Amounts are for UK residents and as of 2014.)

LOS ANGELES
City Club Los Angeles, (213) 620-9662, clubcorp.com/Clubs/City-Club-Los-Angeles. A screening room, along with rooms for smaller meetings and one-on-one conversations, are among the options at this location, which has skyline views of the city. Open to anyone. Initiation fee: $1,500–$2,000. Monthly dues: $215–$365. (Amounts depend on age and membership type.)

NEW YORK
Core: club, (212) 486-6600, thecoreclub.com. Founded in 2005, Core: boasts members such as Bill Clinton and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. By invitation only. Initiation fee: $50,000. Annual dues: $17,000.

Metropolitan Club, (212) 863-7400, metropolitanclubnyc.org. J.P. Morgan was the first president of the club, which was established in 1891 and offers Central Park views. Members have included Richard Nixon and Salman Rushdie. By invitation only. Initiation fee: data unavailable. Annual dues: $5,000.

Soho House New York, (212) 627-9800, sohohouseny.com. Perks include a heated rooftop pool with views of Manhattan, a 44-seat screening room, and a spa. Two members must propose applicants. Initiation fee: $150–$300, based on age. Annual dues: $1,000–$2,800, depending on membership level. Fourteen other locations in England; Miami; Chicago; West Hollywood, California; Istanbul, Turkey; Berlin; and Toronto.

PITTSBURGH
The Duquesne Club, (412) 391-1500, duquesne.org. Known for its “President’s Room” where only company presidents may belong, the 2,700-member club was founded in 1873 by Andrew Carnegie. By invitation only. Initiation fee: $9,000. Annual dues: $4,000.

SAN FRANCISCO
Concordia-Argonaut, (415) 673-9522, concordia-argonaut.com. The basketball court and members’ tournaments are a benefit of the club, which was founded by Levi Strauss and has been housed in the same historical building since 1891. By invitation only. Fees data unavailable.

TOKYO
Roppongi Hills Club, +81 3 6406 6000, roppongihillsclub.com. Situated on the 51st floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. Offers 360-degree views of Tokyo. Members include political leaders and ambassadors from more than 100 countries. Membership by application. Initiation fee: ¥1,200,000 (approx. $10,500). Annual dues: ¥180,000 (approx. $1,500).

WASHINGTON, D.C.
The George Town Club, (202) 333-9330, georgetownclub.org. Housed in an 18th century home believed to be where President George Washington and Major Pierre L’Enfant planned Washington, D.C. By invitation only. Fees data unavailable.


Kimberly Button (kbutton@bjtonline.com) is a Florida-based freelance writer.