“It happens to be a matter of record that I was first in print with the discovery that the tastelessness of the food offered in American clubs varies in direct proportion to the exclusiveness of the club” wrote Calvin Trillin. And while it may be true (despite the brown-sugared bacon bits at The Raquet Club in Saint Louis), the fact is we don’t join clubs for the food.
We once joined clubs for social standing, but with even Augusta National memberships on the market today, money is a much better key to the clubhouse than it once was. Still, social pretense was only ever the backdrop to the private club’s main draw: a relaxed, friendly environment, removed from worldly pressures, in which members could count on one another’s manners, loyalty, and taste. In today’s reality-television world, such escape into manners and taste is all the more necessary and, ironically, less-attainable: few are able to duck out for martini lunches at the club anymore.
And so, since we can’t repair to the club at our leisure, we can at least bring part of it to us: presented here, a brief tour of some of the notables. Unfortunately absent: The New York Athletic Club and the Yale Club.