New York’s private club craze is a cancer in the city
September 3, 2022
Some things in life need to be experienced privately. Sex for example. Colonoscopies. But eating in fancy restaurants and hanging out in fancy spaces shouldn’t be private affairs. Unfortunately, New York is becoming a place where such delights are reserved for the privileged few.
The Big Apple has historically been the most public of all major cities. Except for a handful of clubs for alumni from Harvard, Yale, and other Ivy League institutions, almost everything is open to those who can afford a night out — even if that means waiting on the velvet rope.
But suddenly, members-only places for worldwide carpet bags clog Page Six’s pages. As a lifelong New Yorker, this offends me. No, it makes me furious. Pretentious, exclusive establishments are just what our brave, troubled city doesn’t need.
Violator #1 is Casa Cipriani, a massive members-only hotel, restaurant and lounge atop the Battery Maritime Building downtown. The numerous Art Deco-inspired dining rooms, bars and terrace lounges are beautiful to look at, both indoors and out. Guests can enjoy astonishing views of the East River and the skyline. The Venetian-themed menu whips the arugula from that of lesser Ciprianis.
But it’s off limits unless you’re a member of a club, or you’re paying more than $800 a night for one of the 47 rooms. This, even though it is owned by the city, which has put in tens of millions in taxpayers’ money to restore the old ferry terminal to support the new structure on it.
What a slap in the face to the New Yorkers who had to expect a normal hotel and party location on the site, accessible to everyone.
‘Casa’, which means ‘house’ in Spanish and Italian, will also not be accessible to normal New Yorkers at Casa Cruz.
Last week, two curious, fashionably dressed young women who were not members were ushered into the invitingly lit club on East 61st Street by a friendly doorman (who has probably since been fired). Believing they were welcome, the women took a seat at the bar upstairs—only to be ice-cold booted because they didn’t belong there.
Mayor Eric Adams’ favorite haunt is Zero Bond. An initiation fee of up to $4,000 plus annual membership fee of up to $4,000 does not guarantee access to “two floors of luxurious lounges, private dining rooms, omakase restaurant, movie theater and library,” The New York Times reported.
The blessing of a membership committee is also required to enjoy what founder Scott Sartiano calls “a New York version of a London club.”
Damn ridiculous, if you ask me.
That’s not all. Nightlife mogul Robin Birley, whose face was once scarred by a tiger, wants to start a glamorous members’ club at 828 Madison Ave., modeled after his impenetrable 5 Hertford Street in London. And Carbone, where it’s already impossible to get a reservation, plans to partner with a Japanese restaurant to open a Carbone for members at Hudson Yards. Called ZiZi’s Club, it will be an offshoot of the owners’ private club in Miami.
Meanwhile, don’t even think about visiting the new Aman hotel in the Crown Building on Fifth Avenue. Unlike any other hotel in town, Aman’s restaurant, jazz club, lounges, and even the lobby are open only to room guests who pay $3,200 or more per night or purchase a $200,000 club membership. Dressed as Secret Service agents, the hotel doormen guard the velvet rope on East 57th Street like Fort Knox, chasing potential explorers away with a grin.
It’s easy to joke about the “private” metastasis. But it’s a cancer in New York City’s DNA. It exploits a deranged nostalgia for what New York City never had, but excites elitists: a class system. From the first Dutch settlements to the current 200-language metropolis, we are all about inclusion, not exclusion.
We measure success in our performance, not in starting fees and the vagaries of ‘membership committees’. If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere, and we don’t need private clubs to prove it.