As long as New York has had its own peculiar brand of aristocracy, it has had social clubs—wood-paneled, old-moneyed sanctums where the urban elite kept company, far removed from the city scrum. Within closed societies like the Union and Knickerbocker, the latter founded by John Jacob Astor in 1871, membership meant gravitas and social ascension. Ancient Ivy outfits and old-world institutions like the Metropolitan and ladies-only Colony have held fast to their blue-blooded constituents, but the past decade has brought notable change to the private-club scene. London import Soho House opened in the meatpacking district in 2003; the Core Club, with a $50,000 buy-in fee, launched in 2005, followed by Norwood in 2007; and all manner of secretive supper clubs have surfaced. While clannish fraternities continue to breed—Soho House is lobbying hard for a Lower East Side expansion—many of the newest clubs are taking a more egalitarian tack, proliferating around the arts, food and drink (of course), and even the love of a loyal pet. Here, a look at the state of New York’s new members-only cosmos.
Key: Just How Discriminating Is It?
1/4 = A hair shy of socialist—all comers are welcome.
2/4 = Make peace with your own name-dropping.
3/4 = Modestly hermetic, but not hopeless.
4/4 = The Swiss vault of social clubs—nigh uncrackable.
For the creative kibbutznik:
Why join: The spirit of Warhol’s Factory is alive at this community-oriented Lower East Side arts collective, gallery, and workspace. Former Soho House manager Brian Shevlin founded ConArtist in 2010, outfitting the 1,600-square-foot Ludlow Street basement with a screen-printing press, slop sinks, iMacs, Wacom digital drawing tablets, and Arthurian wood tables. Members—100 or so painters, illustrators, self-publishers, street artists, and miscellaneous maker types—can arrange 24-hour access to the studio and store their gear and finished works in lockable bins. ConArtist also functions as a kind of community-fed soapbox, staging gallery shows, live “art battles,” and other events to support the work of its members.
Getting in: An online application poses open-ended questions about the nature of your work and provides space to link to an online portfolio. The form is circulated among the collective, and hopefuls must net 80 percent approval to join. Shevlin says that the vote is not curatorial—the group is more concerned with how each artist might enrich the greater community. Dues are $50 a year for the collective, plus $180 per month for use of the workspace.
For the laptop warrior:
Why join: Brooklyn kingpin Akiva Reich has broken ground on a members-only social club just across the canal from the Green Building, the wedding venue he owns in Carroll Gardens. The 9,500-square-foot space, which will open for private parties in June and membership in October, is designed with the neighborhood’s freelance creative class in mind. Vintage furnishings, plenty of outlets, and great light—provided by a 50-foot skylight—will make for an ideal place to take meetings, pound away on MacBooks, drink seasonal cocktails, and nibble snacks from a local bakery. Around 4 p.m., thoughtful programming takes over: Ping-Pong throwdowns, bingo nights, film screenings, and the like.
Getting in: Membership applications are not yet available. Reich is still sorting out the payment structure, but he says he expects dues to be around $1,500 annually (with a price break for early adopters).
For the experimental-theater geek:
Eat My Heart Out
Why join: Theater obsessives and food cognoscenti convene quarterly at this performance-art-and-supper-club mash-up. Comedian Eugene Ashton-Gonzalez curates the storytellers—everyone from Jezebel editor Dodai Stewart to “The Moth” regular Aaron Wolfe—and chefs, who prepare dishes inspired by their tales. The dinners, typically held at a Dumbo loft, comprise five courses and five performances—many of which, says Ashton-Gonzalez, are designed to provoke conversation about food’s role in culture and community. Creativity is encouraged: Guests are given art supplies and seated at tables covered in butcher paper. Go to town.
Getting in: Ashton-Gonzalez is serious about keeping his community well-pruned. He’s looking for joiners who have a demonstrated passion for what they eat and serve. To score access to an Eat My Heart Out event, prospective members should e-mail him (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a story about “something that moves you at the dinner table.” If he likes what you have to say, he’ll interview you and, from there, send out invitations. Meals cost $80 to $100, including wine.
For the food-world first-responder:
Friends With Benefits
Why join: This pro-level culinary series subverts the long-trending supper-club setup: Instead of earnest amateurs cooking in a cramped apartment, Chris Mitchell—formerly the chef at haute kosher eatery Jezebel—invites his food-world pals to stage dinners and “cocktail clubs” in a Soho loft. The events, says Mitchell, are a chance for chefs to indulge their interests outside the formal restaurant setting, which means you might encounter a cook from wd-50 trading hydrocolloids for tahini-slicked lamb loin. The cocktail parties, meanwhile, are stand-up affairs, tended by superstar bartenders like Brandon Bramhall (Milk & Honey) and Franky Marshall (the Dead Rabbit, the Tippler). Events happen two or three times a month: On May 16, Brian Hawthorne of the Wayland and cult bartender Doug Quinn, late of P.J. Clarke’s, host a cocktail mixer.
Getting in: Introduce yourself online and Mitchell will add you to the mailing list. Dinners range from $95 to $150, and cocktail parties are $75.