Bernard O’Riordan goes behind the scenes at one of New York’s elite private clubs and discovers an exclusive, old-world haven for creative types.
If buzzwords like “exclusive”, “elite”, “private”, “waiting list” and “members-only” excite you, then the bohemian Norwood Club in New York’s Chelsea district has your name on it.
Housed in an antique mansion on 14th Street near 8th Avenue – in walking distance of the High Line and the Whitney Museum – Norwood is a private members club for creative types, including writers, painters, actors, musicians, designers and art collectors.
Spread over five floors with a full restaurant, three lounge bars, a 45-seat screening room, a private dining room, a walled garden and 13 original fireplaces, this unassuming brownstone is a ‘home away from home’ for anyone with a half-decent reputation.
Built between 1845 and 1847 for the wealthy merchant Andrew Norwood, the historic Andrew S. Norwood house is a remarkably preserved slice of early Victorian architecture.
It’s also listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The club was created in 2007 by owner Alan Linn, whose experience running trendy members-only clubs in the UK inspired him to try his hand in the US.
Like many elite institutions in New York City, gaining access often depends on your pedigree and how deep your pockets are. Sometimes it just depends on who you know.
I’m assured though that it’s not as expensive to join as its stately facade and ornate interior might suggest.
While clubs like this don’t like to discuss prices publicly, Norwood’s 1,100 or so members pay a $800 joining fee plus $2,000 in annual dues.
At other more elite clubs frequented by Wall Street bankers and captains of industry, joining fees and annual membership fees are often in the four or five-figure range.
According to the membership application, wannabe members need to validate their involvement in the creative arts during an hour-long interview, while also highlighting some of their accomplishments.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to splash the cash or prove my credentials.
I was introduced to this secret social world by a friend who is a member, and who just happened to be celebrating her birthday at these swanky digs on the fringe of the West Village.
Inside the Norwood Club
Given the hefty price tag, members expect their privacy. And although there’s a no photo/ no mobile phone policy, I’m a renowned rule breaker and was able to take some discreet photos while it was still quiet.
Inside you’ll be wowed by many original features, including stately mahogany doors, no less than 13 marble fireplaces, ornate plaster crown mouldings and a winding wooden staircase to the roof.
There are multiple lounge bars (we had a bar to ourselves when we visited) and, as you’d expect, there’s a prized wine cellar in the basement.
During the warmer months, members can take advantage of the outdoor courtyard with its walled garden. It’s a perfect slice of serenity in the middle of the city.
Perhaps the most notable feature that strikes you at Norwood is its dynamic art collection, which is reinvented by its members every year.
The print above was created for Norwood by British artist Killy Kilford, and is a popular backdrop for weddings at the club.
Membership Has Its Privileges
Norwood builds its offerings and programming around its VIP members with regular events such as film screenings and art exhibits, art classes and workshops, live performances and wine dinners.
Once a month, a group of 16 members who have never met gather for a private dinner to help promote networking within the club. The club also hosts regular meetings in the Writers’ Room as well as games nights.
Members also have reciprocal visiting rights with other private clubs in London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, South Africa, Sydney, Paris, Dublin, Budapest, Toronto, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai.
New York’s Old School Private Clubs
Norwood, with its less stringent rules and more casual membership, is a minnow compared to many elite institutions that cater to ‘old money’ and which occupy prime slabs of land across Manhattan.
Membership at these prestigious clubs has traditionally involved birthright, and that archaic mix of gender, race, religious affiliation and sport.
But a city-wide law in 1984 eradicated discrimination based on sex, race and religion, and slowly but surely, the barriers to entry have been lowered at most institutions.
The Knickerbocker is so exclusive that no one is to ever reveal information about the club.
At scores of fraternal clubs across the city, New York’s power players – men and women – come to relax, talk business and network without fear of being seen or heard.
The city’s oldest private club established in 1836 is the Union Club, which occupies prime land on 69th Street and Park Avenue.
The New York Athletic Club stands tall at Central Park South, the University Club calls Fifth Avenue home and the Metropolitan Club is tucked behind foreboding iron gates at East 60th Street (pictured).
The ebullient New York Yacht Club at West 44th Street was founded in 1844 and has long been home to the America’s Cup. Membership here comes with a hefty price tag: there’s a $50,000 initiation fee and an annual $15,000 membership fee.
The Knickerbocker Club, located on East 62nd Street, was founded in protest against what were seen as the declining standards of The Union Club. It is so exclusive that it has a policy that states no one is to ever divulge any information about the club.
The Harmonie Club, a club founded in 1852 at East 60th Street with a mainly Jewish membership, made headlines in 2001 when former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg famously quit because it resisted diversity. Not much has changed since.
© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved
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