A jaunt around some of New York’s most exclusive member’s clubs.
If you can escape the clutches of Manhattan’s commercial district- a tangled orgy of concrete, glass and steel, tempered by unfettered human ambition -then lower mid-town offers a brief moment of respite before flinging you back into the depths of the city. Here the sun’s rays, having no longer to contend with the invasive reach of New York’s sky scrapers, flood through the sky-line and bathe among the broad avenues.
Jutting out from it’s perch off Park Avenue and in the heart of Murray Hill, the Union League Club is a prestigious social club that boasts a gilded list of alumni including J.P. Morgan, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt. Robed in the candid American décor of early-twentieth century New York, the building’s earthen red façade is a timely reminder to the world that, “they make take our AAA credit rating, but they will never our Americanism!”
Having being buffeted by such flag-waving machismo, presumably plucked straight from the timbers of the Bush family ranch, I made a subsequent discovery. The prestigious club stocked Johnson’s baby shampoo (which sincerely promised ‘no tears’) in its showers.
I am in possession of such an intimate knowledge of the Union League Club and other similar establishments because I have furnished my past month in New York conducting a social experiment. Drawing encouragement from the success of the world’s banking elite in evading significant retribution for the financial crisis, I concluded that we are bound by human nature rarely to question someone wearing a suit. After all, with some exceptions, they are usually correct with colour combinations.
Therefore armed with a dark blue pin-striped suit (and occasionally a briefcase, depending on my confidence levels), I have successfully strolled into some of New York’s most elite member’s clubs. The main perk being that the majority of these clubs have state-of-the-art facilities, including steam rooms, billiards tables and, in the case of the Union League Club, a golf simulator.
Breaching the clubs’ reception area, though, is a mere skirmish. From then on, your every movement and interaction must be governed by the chief priority of convincing members and staff that you are a fully-fledged member of the elitist establishment. The gleaming facilities at your fingertips are merely a third home, alongside that Upper-East penthouse and manor in the Hamptons.
Being among a herd of sliver Republican moustaches, I tended to stand out. As a result I took to painting myself as a flamboyant British aristocrat, in the mould of Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff, to vault into the upper echelons of New York society. My personal tale was one of shackled potential in rural Buckinghamshire that had driven me to cross the pond in a bid to unleash my creative beast (and wallet) upon the unsuspecting city.
I soon discovered that interactions with staff aided in smoothing the occasionally rough edges of the character. For example, to overcome the potentially awkward situation of being approached quizzically after making lavish use of the fitness equipment I merely brought the attack to the club’s employees; “Ahh “insert name on card here”, just hammered out 75 on the quadrilater, now that’s a p.b if I ever saw one. Am I right!” Accompany that with a pat on the shoulder and the club house is yours.
Conversations with members must be approached more cautiously. When the live stream of Fox News, radiating through the locker room, churned out a story of Tea Party member Christine O’Donnell allegedly practising witchcraft in her rebellious younger years (I guess it’s conservative Americans equivalent of listening to rap music), I had to suppress any laughter for fear that the Tea party had infiltrated the Union League. Perhaps by putting something in the drinks?
When thrust into more intimate scenarios, such as the flabby depths of the steam room, it is advisable to preserve silence and escape, if the situation requires it, to your happy place. I once intruded on an elderly member who was going through what appeared to be some form of tantric workout on the marble benches. Through the coils of steam, I could make out his legs jutting at mathematically-implausible angles, and gyrating stubbornly. “Good amount of steam” offered the ghostly apparition in an eager New England accent. “Yep,” I replied “you can hardly see a thing”.
The beating heart of the club, and arguably American Republicanism, is to be found on the fourth floor and is aptly-named, ‘The President’s Room’. It houses a poker table, elegant leather couches and hums with exclusivity. My first and only visit to the room was greeted with the sight and smell of four stout middle-aged men with matching comb-overs. In a dense haze of cigar smoke, they were discussing voter turnout for the upcoming Presidential election beneath a portrait of Ronald Reagan, looking on approvingly. Upon my entrance, the group offered me a collective look as if I had just poured liquid shit into their whiskey glasses and a timely reminder that fictitious English aristocracy will only get you so far.
This clearly shook my hastily constructed pseudonym and, as I was leaving the club later, I heard a desperate shout snake after me, “Excuse me sir?” Needless to say, I have not been back since. After all, the Princeton Club is a leisurely stroll uptown.