15 Old, Opulent New York Clubs That Still Exist Today

Photographed by Laura Itzkowitz.
These days, with Facebook and Instagram keeping us readily connected, it’s easy to forgo face-to-face interaction in favor of sending a quick email. That was not, of course, always the case.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, New Yorkers built opulent private clubs to provide a place for like-minded individuals to meet, network, and exchange ideas. They were exclusive, interest-oriented locales where members of society could escape the madness of the city (even if it was just for the afternoon) and dive head-first into their hobbies and passions.

And, while the idea of a social club may be a bit passé for modern-day New York, many of these architectural treasures still stand tall on the streets — with some still fully functioning as they did way back when. Wonder what goes on in that grand structure you pass every day on your morning commute? Ahead, you'll get an inside look at 15 of these incredible Old New York staples, and see why they're still so important to the city we live in today.
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Photo: Phillipe Martin Chatelain/Untapped Cities.
Metropolitan Club Of New York
J. P. Morgan was the first president of the Metropolitan Club, which he founded as a protest to the Union Club when it wouldn’t allow one of his friends as a member.

Built on the corner of 60th Street and Fifth Avenue (on land acquired from the Duchess of Marlborough), the extravagant clubhouse was designed by legendary architecture firm McKim, Mead & White to resemble an Italian Renaissance palazzo. The entrance boasts an insanely tall wrought-iron gate, where horses and carriages would pull up back in Morgan’s day.

More recent members have included Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Salman Rushdie, and to this day, formal attire is required for entrance.

Metropolitan Club of New York, 1 East 60th Street (at Fifth Avenue); 212-838-7400.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities.
The National Arts Club
Next door to the infamous Players Club, The National Arts Club occupies a stunning Gramercy Park townhouse of its own.

Originally located on 34th Street, the club moved into the historic Samuel Tilden mansion in 1906 and completely revamped it with the help of Calvert Vaux (of Central Park fame) and Henry LaFarge. The interior is now furnished with stately dark wood, Victorian sofas, and an enormous, stained-glass dome that sits over the formal dining room. Unsurprisingly, the Arts Club has made appearances in Boardwalk Empire.

Today, the dining room and bar are open only to members and their guests, but the galleries (which feature a rotating schedule of exhibits) are open to the public.

The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South (between Irving Place and Union Square East); 212-475-3424.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities.
Norwood Club
Hidden behind an unmarked door, Norwood is a private arts club in a historic Chelsea townhouse. Thousands pass right by it, never knowing what a stunning space is hidden inside.

The members-only club occupies six floors, each one decorated differently by the owners, Alan Linn and Simon Costin, who designed sets for Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows and whose work regularly appears in Vogue. Each floor seems more over-the-top than the last, with oversized furniture, marble fireplaces, and art by the likes of Damien Hirst.

Norwood is open all day to members and their guests, but the place really comes alive after dark, when it hosts events like art openings, film screenings, and performances.

Norwood Club, 241 West 14th Street (between Seventh and Eighth avenues); 212-255-9300.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities.
Cosmopolitan Club
Founded in 1909, the Cosmopolitan Club is the ultimate social club for ladies who lunch.

The ten-story meeting place is tucked into an Upper East Side townhouse boasting several dining rooms, a lounge, a library, a ballroom, and multiple elegant terraces. As you’d expect from such a place, the décor includes floral-patterned wallpaper, white linen tablecloths, and chandeliers galore.

The “Cos Club,” as it's more popularly known, is only open to members and their guests, or members of affiliated clubs. Just don’t forget your pearls.

Cosmopolitan Club, 122 East 66th Street (between Lexington and Park avenues); 212-734-5950.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities
Harvard Club Of New York City
The Harvard Club stands as Midtown Manhattan's testament to the prestige of Harvard University. Founded by a group of alumni in 1865, the club quickly grew to 600 members by the late 1800s. Once it gained momentum, Charles McKim (of McKim, Mead & White) designed the building using authentic Harvard brick and Indiana limestone.

Inside, the space feels like the old-boys' club of yesteryear. Enormous chandeliers and taxidermy animal heads decorate the grand hall, portraits of illustrious members (John F. Kennedy included) line the walls of the dining room, and the library upstairs is filled with hardbound books and leather club chairs. The building even includes squash courts, a gym, and a sauna.

Members can access the club at any time, and Harvard alums are able to attend special events.

Harvard Club of New York City, 35 West 44th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-840-6600.
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Photographed by Laura Itzkowitz.
The Century Association
Walking by The Century Association on 43rd Street, you might think someone had taken an Italian Renaissance palace and plopped it in the middle of Midtown. And, you wouldn’t be far off.

McKim, Mead & White based the club’s design on the Palazzo Canossa in Verona. The facade features elaborately carved designs, while the interiors are warm and inviting, with oak paneling in the dining room, Oriental rugs, and brass chandeliers.

The Century Association, 7 West 43rd Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-944-0090.
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Photo: Ayelet Pearl/Untapped Cities
The Grolier Club
Tucked away on a quiet Upper East Side block, The Grolier Club is a members-only club dedicated to the book arts.

Robert Hoe, a printing-press manufacturer and book collector, along with his bibliophile friends, founded the space and named it after the great French Renaissance bibliophile Jean Grolier. Inside, the beautiful library contains 100,000 volumes focused on the history of book-making and antiquarian book auction catalogues.

If you're not a member, don't fret. The club mounts book-themed exhibitions that are free and open to the public.

The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street (between Park and Madison avenues); 212-838-6690.
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Photographed by Laura Itzkowitz.
New York Yacht Club
The block of 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues gained the moniker "Club Row" because of all the opulent private clubs built there in the early 20th century.

One of the most luxurious is the New York Yacht Club — immediately identifiable by its elaborately carved bay windows resembling baroque ships with seaweed, shells, and dolphins. Originally founded in 1845 (and only occupying a one-room cottage), the club expanded in the late 1800s when J. P. Morgan donated the plot of land where it now sits. In addition to the library’s collection of books and prints, the the Yacht Club boasts an impressive collection of, you guessed it, model yachts.

New York Yacht Club, 37 West 44th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-382-1000.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities.
Salmagundi Art Club
Founded in 1871 as a sketch class, the Salmagundi Club moved into its current digs in 1917. Now, the club occupies a historic Greenwich Village townhouse, and the interior has a residential feel, with a marble fireplace and vintage furniture in the parlor. The building also consists of three galleries, a library, the parlor, and a restaurant and bar with vintage pool tables.

It’s one of the oldest arts organizations in the United States, and counts prominent figures such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and N. C. Wyeth among its members.

Salmagundi Art Club, 47 Fifth Avenue (between West 11th and 12th streets); 212-255-7740.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities
The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club, located in a historic townhouse on the Upper East Side, looks like something Wes Anderson might have dreamed up: Upon entering, you’re greeted by a large African mask and oversized globe alongside leaded windows, wood-paneled walls, leather club chairs, and taxidermy.

Founded in 1904 to support the exploration of land, sea, air, and space, the club boasts illustrious members who have celebrated many firsts and superlatives: first to reach the North and South Poles, first to climb to the summit of Mount Everest, the deepest ocean exploration, and first man on the moon.

The club has many trophies from its members, too, including a leopard and a lion that Teddy Roosevelt hunted on safaris. There’s even a cabinet filled with Napoleon’s maps of Egypt, which you can check out at one of its many public events.

The Explorers Club, 46 East 70th Street (between Park and Madison avenues); 212-628-8383.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities.
The Players
Nestled in a four-story townhouse on Gramercy Park, The Players stands as a testament to the rich history of the theater in New York City.

Edwin Booth, a great Shakespearean actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, founded the club in 1888 to provide a place for actors (considered rabble-rousers at the time) to elevate their status by socializing with the elite, and to bring honor back to the Booth family name after his brother assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

The incredible space is chock-full of artifacts: Mark Twain’s pool cue, Shakespearian costumes, a bust of Edgar Allen Poe, Booth’s personal effects, and portraits of members, including contemporary actors such as Jimmy Fallon and Kevin Spacey.

It hosts occasional public events, including an immersive play that transformed the club into a Jazz Age speakeasy.

The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South (between Irving Place and Union Square East); 212-475-6116.
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Photographed by Laura Itzkowitz.
University Club Of New York
The stately University Club on the corner of 54th Street and Fifth Avenue looks like it might be some grandiose mansion from another era.

Founded by a small group of recent college graduates (mostly Yalies) in 1865, the club called upon McKim, Mead & White (who were all club members) to design the imposing, six-story building, with interiors that evoke various international influences, from Italian to Dutch. The library rivals the New York Public Library, with vaulted ceilings, walnut shelves, alcove niches, and a ceiling mural inspired by the Borgia apartments in the Vatican.

University Club of New York, 1 West 54th Street (at Fifth Avenue); 212-247-2100.
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Photographed by Laura Itzkowitz.
New York Athletic Club
Founded in 1868 to foster amateur athletics, the New York Athletic Club quickly cemented its reputation in the world of sports. The impressive clubhouse on the corner of 59th Street and Seventh Avenue contains a huge gymnasium with a track and basketball court, a pool and sauna, squash and racquetball courts, a fencing and wrestling room, and a boxing room with two rings. There’s also an elegant dining room overlooking Central Park, a tap room, and a cocktail lounge.

Its members have won a total of 248 Olympic medals, over half of which were gold, over the course of its history.

New York Athletic Club, 180 Central Park South (at Seventh Avenue); 212-247-5100.
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Photo: Courtesy of Yale Club.
The Yale Club Of New York City
When the Yale Club moved to its current digs across from Grand Central in 1915, it set the record for the largest clubhouse in the world.

The beautiful, Neoclassical building was designed by James Gamble Rogers, an alum of the university. Inside, there are plenty of gathering spaces, including three restaurants, a rooftop terrace, a library, a grand ballroom, several smaller meeting rooms, and a squash and fitness center.

Each year, the club hosts nearly 300 events for members.

The Yale Club of New York City, 50 Vanderbilt Avenue (at West 44th Street); 212-716-2100.
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Photo: Courtesy of Society of Illustrators.
Society Of Illustrators
The artists who founded the Society of Illustrators in 1901 declared, “The object of the Society shall be to promote generally the art of illustration and to hold exhibitions from time to time.” They acquired the former carriage house of J. P. Morgan’s personal secretary in 1939 and have been hosting exhibitions, workshops, lectures, sketch nights, and film screenings there ever since.

The five-story Upper East Side building is filled with art, including a Norman Rockwell painting that hangs over the bar, given to the club by the artist himself.

The Society of Illustrators is one of the most accessible clubs, with tons of public events and its Museum of American Illustration.

Society of Illustrators, 128 East 63rd Street (between Lexington and Park avenues); 212-838-2560.
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