The Most Exclusive Members-Only Clubs In Manhattan

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Photo: Courtesy Norwood Club

The island of Manhattan is home to the greatest concentration of private clubs in this country, and no, we are not talking about the velvet-roped club doors of the Meatpacking District.These elite institutions date back to early nineteenth century, modelled after the gentlemen’s clubs of London and retain the codes of behaviour from that era.

The buildings are reverent but nondescript, the fees are astronomical, and the dress code is de rigueur.

Here are 7 members-only clubs, where the upper echelon of New York Society can freely mix business with pleasure.

The Union Club of the City of New York

The first private social club to claim Manhattan was The Union Club, established in 1836 in a landmark building known for opulence and details including five dining rooms, a humidor with 100,000 cigars, card room, library, lounge, and squash courts.

Location:East 69th Street and Park Avenue

Membership: This club is thought of as the most exclusive of the social clubs, even refusing admission to the sons of some prominent members. However, they remained fiercely loyal, refusing to expel their Confederate members during the Civil War.

Notable Members: Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Randolph Heart, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ulysses S. Grant.

The Century Association

The Century Association was established in 1847 by William Cullen Bryant, a poet and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post to promote interest in the fine arts and literature. Consequently, the clubhouse, which is also the oldest surviving, is home to a notable art collection and acts as a venue for the contemporary art pieces of their members. The clubhouse also contains the Century centre for the Performing Arts, a 248 seat theatre, ballroom, and studio.

Location: 43rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue

Membership: The club intended to have only 100 men who were artists, literary men, scientists, physicians, officers of the Army and Navy, members of the Bench, Engineers, Clergymen, and merchants, but those restrictions evolved to consist of mainly businessmen, lawyers, and doctors, and then women in 1988.

Notable Members:Fredrick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mayor Bloomberg, Jackie Onassis, and Toni Morrison.

The Brook Club

The Brook Club is one of the final clubs to retain its status as a private gentlemen's club. It was founded in 1903 by dissatisfied members of the Union Club and the Metropolitan Club. Legend tells, however, that it was formed by two young men who were expelled from the Union Club for trying to poach on egg on the head of a bald club member. The club is so exclusive, it's nearly impossible to find a photo of the inside...

Location: 111 East 54th Street

Membership: Aside from only accepting men, The Brook accepts only those with a large international presence.

Notable Members: John F. Kennedy, Fred Astaire, and Michael Bloomberg.

The Metropolitan Club

The Metropolitan Club was another offshoot of the Union Club, when in 1891. The story tells that J.P. Morgan, a Vanderbilt and Whitney broke away and established this rival club, when one of J.P. Morgan's friends was denied membership in the old money--only Union Club. The Metropolitan Club was meant for the nouveau money of Manhattan. Reportedly, J.P. Morgan told the architect to 'build a club fit for a gentleman and damn the cost.'

Location: 60th St. and Fifth Avenue

Membership: This was the first club to accept members regardless of their lineage and one of the first to allow women inside, although they were restricted to the Annex until 1940. It does, however, require a strict dress code for its members at all times.

Notable Members: Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.

The Core Club

Fast forward to 2005 to join The Core Club, which was founded by 100 plus investing members including Steven Roth, Stephen Scwarzman, and Patricia Kluge, each investing $100,000 or more. For $50,000 initially you can gain access to the five floor building which includes dining room, spa facilities, and event space and showcases an on-loan art collection. It is founded on the principle that any discussion or service one desires can be conducted through the club.

Location: 66 East 55th Street

Membership: New Yorkers wishing to join must be recommended by existing members to join and be able to afford the initiation fee and $15,000 annual fee. Members include big wigs of the finance, real estate, film, fashion and political world.

Notable Members: Bill Clinton, Tory Burch, and Harvey Weinstein.

The Norwood Club

The newest of the private clubs is The Norwood Club founded in 2007 with an indie and artistic vibe not represented by the older institutions. This club operates at a faster pace including a restaurant, three lounge bars (where famous DJs are spinning or string quartets are playing), a 45-seat screening room, event space, private dining room, and walled garden. There are also easels set up for anyone who feels compelled to express themselves in painting.

Location: 241 West 14th Street

Membership: Although the annual membership fee is substantially less at $1,000, gaining that membership is all about who you are and who you know in the 'creative-type' world. Some of the questions on the application are, 'who would you most like to collaborate with?' and 'what is your involvement with the creative arts?'

PJ Clarke's Sidecar

Last week, the second floor of the famous Manhattan Institution, P.J. Clarke's, closed its doors to the public. The restaurant, known for its hustle and bustle, unbiased service, and distinguished diners surprised their most loyal clientele with a membership card that will grant them access to the second floor Sidecar. These members can still eat downstairs at the timeless establishment, but if they desire a more quiet, elegant, and cozy space with the added perk of concierge services, extended hours, and private event space, the Sidecar is available.

Location: 915 Third Avenue, at 55th Street

Membership: Although they plan to issue 100 more cards, membership is currently capped at 1,884 members total for both New York and Washington D.C.'s clubs. Phil Scotti, director of member affairs, say they are looking for lifetime members who will enjoy coming year after year.

Notable Members: While they are not disclosing who has been offered the coveted cards, it is likely that guests will include celebrity regulars like Johnny Depp, Keith Richards, Liza Minnelli and Brooke Shields.

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