For most New Yorkers, a trip to the gym means waiting on line for machines and sharing the humid, dank air with dozens of sweaty people who smell like they’ve been on a monthlong garlic binge. But for those willing to pay—and pay and pay—there are private gyms, where whopping membership fees entitle clients to buy sessions with intensely trained trainers. At these gyms, workouts are supervised, charted, studied, and supplemented with visits from nutritionists and shrinks. And if you’re not serious or rich enough, it’s back to hoi polloi for you.
48 East 73rd Street
What to expect when the elevator doors open onto Casa, perhaps the city’s priciest gym, where clients pay the equivalent of a year’s tuition at Dalton for the privilege of sweating away in the top two floors of an East 73rd Street townhouse that’s not even open on Sundays? Solid-gold dumbbells?
In fact, Casa is kind of basic. Mats on the floors, standard machines, no-frills dressing rooms. But then Chris Imbo, Casa’s owner, a former University of Miami running back, comes bounding in, followed by his crew of trainers, and you start checking them for battery packs. Everyone at Casa is so … psyched.
The membership numbers 75 to 100 (chiefly tycoons and those who love them). Aspiring clients who don’t seem motivated enough are told to take their five figures elsewhere. After all, if you’ve made it to Casa, you are someone who’s used to reaching your goals, and then some. If the weather’s nice, clients are put through their paces in Central Park. No one leaves Casa without a purple face (and a better body).
Basic membership is $6,350 a year, giving you the right to schedule appointments during peak hours. Workout sessions cost an additional $99 each, or you can buy the Peak Ten, a comprehensive ten-week fitness program, for $12,225.
E at Equinox
Opens late January.
Equinox goes chic-uinox at its newest location two floors below the Time Warner Center. The space will be 41,000 square feet, and nestled within will be E: an invitation-only private gym for the “V-VIPs, be they an elite guest at the Mandarin Oriental, a captain of industry, or a Ricky Martin,” explains Equinox’s CEO Harvey Spevak. The chosen few will be admitted via a machine that scans retinas, “just like in the Pentagon.” After changing in private “cabana” dressing rooms, clients can help themselves to towels (heated or chilled) while being tended to by Equinox’s new squad of “T4” trainers, a classification developed exclusively for E. Members will be entitled to full use of the gym’s facilities and classes, including the 75-foot lap pool.
The total annual cost, including a $5,000 initiation fee, is $23,500, which covers training sessions.
72 Greene Street, second floor
All the weight machines at Evolution Studios in Soho have been reupholstered in tasteful beige leather, and it’s hard to imagine a more spotless environment in which to perspire. Lofty columns and floor-to-ceiling windows span the front and back of the gym, giving way to meticulous locker rooms in back.
The gym tends to be pretty sparsely populated, as members are only permitted to turn up for training when they have an appointment; the locker rooms never have more than four people in them. Evolution exercises are designed to increase balance and stability, and several custom-designed Nautilus machines are double-sided—one lever for each arm—in order to achieve greater symmetry. Regarding the giant RLX logo on the wall? Ralph, Ricky, David, and Dylan Lauren all train here.
Basic membership is $2,500 a year. Training sessions are $90 to $200 an hour.
La Palestra Center for Preventative Medicine
11 West 67th Street
This 15,000-square-foot space in the former Hotel des Artistes ballroom is definitely the best-looking gym in town, its environs festooned with totems of fitness: fencing masks, belays, antique strap-on ice skates. Private showers and changing rooms are pristine and chic. There’s a balcony library and a café where La Palestra serves bagels and cream cheese every morning, so confident is it in its regimen. The 130 to 150 clients here are evaluated not only by a trainer but by an internist, a nutritionist, a physical therapist, an orthopedist, and a psychologist, after which individual programs are prescribed by Pasquale Manocchia, the Brown alum (classics major) who founded the gym in 1994. There’s a 100 percent marathon-completion rate among La Palestra’s clients, with trips arranged for groups of them to run the Rome and Paris-to-Versailles marathons or trek through the Himalayas and up Kilimanjaro.
Rates are “somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 a month,” says a gym executive. “But memberships aren’t sold by the month.” In other words, rates aren’t revealed to the casually (and pruriently) interested. Training sessions cost $85 to $125.
Madison Square Club
210 Fifth Avenue, near 25th Street
212-683-1836 It’s hard to imagine a more mediagenic fitness guy than David Kirsch: His book, Sound Mind, Sound Body, is filled with pictures of him (shirtless) and Heidi Klum (only one of his famous clients) yukking it up through a workout in the dunes. He’s also garnered quite a lot of attention for accompanying his clients to restaurants, coaching them through meals (slapping hands when necessary), and for offering such nutritional wisdom as, “I once had a friend who remarked, ‘Why do you think they call it fowl? It’s because they are foul.’ ”
Most clients do not get to work out in the sand with Kirsch but in a bright and pretty space above Madison Square Park where Oriental rugs pad the floor and the locker rooms are quite luxurious. Kirsch has ten trainers on call, and his method is based, loosely, on a body-typing system that involves lots of squats, lunges, and cardio work. There’s also a chef on staff who prepares meals-to-go for clients, and a kitchen from which members can purchase unfoul, calibrated nourishment.
Basic membership is $1,200 a year. Training sessions cost an additional $85 to $105, $275 if you’re with Kirsch.