Because you’re not really one of the “who’s who” in Hong Kong unless you’re a member of a private club. In no particular order, here are 10 clubs in the city where membership is the most coveted:
1/10: The American Club
You don’t have to be American to join this club, but it sure does help. Think burgers and apple pie, Thanksgiving and sports bars–whatever it is you’re missing from the good ol’ US of A, you’ll find it at the club’s two locations.
The Town Club, right in the heart of Central, is the perfect place to indulge in some adult time with top-class restaurants and a fitness centre, while the country club in Tai Tam has something for everyone including a spa, swimming pool, basketball court, tennis and squash courts.
Wine and dine: The Town Club boasts five venues including elegant restaurant The Clipper, a steakhouse and a sports bar. Private dining rooms are also available on request. The Country Club offers relaxed venues including a café, wine bar, terrace dining and a poolside grill.
For the family: Make use of the sports bar with family zone and den at the Town Club or the “Eagle’s Nest” at the Country Club, a 10,000 square-foot play space. The Country Club is also home to Chill & Joe’s teen hangout with big screen TVs, game systems, pool tables and more. There are also plenty of family events including an Independence Day picnic, Superbowl breakfast and Halloween haunted house to name a few.
Joining & Membership Fee: The waiting list is around one and a half years and applicants must be proposed and seconded by two active voting members of 12 months standing. A number of different memberships are available. If you’re an American citizen, an American Individual Membership is HK$438,000, with monthly fees of HK$2,570.
A Transferable American Individual Membership is HK$250,000 with monthly fees of HK$1,950. Finally, there’s also a One-Year Temporary Membership at HK$45,600 with monthly fees of HK$1,950, and a Debenture Membership is also available via an agent.
No. of Members: Around 2,800
2/10: The Aberdeen Marina Club
If you’re looking for that “wow” factor, you’ll find it here at one of Hong Kong’s most well-equipped clubs. AMC boasts seven restaurants, separate kids’ play zones, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a bowling alley, fitness centre, a hair and beauty salon and an ice rink, to name a few.
Managed by the Shangri-La group, you’ll find the same attention detail as you would in their hotels, keeping you in the lap of luxury throughout. And, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also fully serviced marina to park your superyacht.
Wine and dine: Feast on signature dry-aged and wet-aged meat cuts at the Marina Grill before heading to the adjacent bar, where mixologist Matthew Lau will prepare a cocktail tailored to your tastes. There’s also The Deck with views over the marina, The Horizon Chinese restaurant, Caffe Luna Italian restaurant and LaCave wine bar.
For the family: Take the little ones up to “Kids on 8!” for an interactive area of mini-worlds, and keep the older ones busy in the two-level indoor playroom with climbing challenges and vertical drop slides. Teenagers have their own Chill Zone and a special graffiti-sprayed lounge area, The Yard.
Joining & Membership Fee: While there’s no waiting list and hopeful applicants can submit a letter of application, membership is strictly by invitation only. You’ll be paying upwards of HK$3,000,000 on the second-hand market.
No. of Members: Around 3,600
3/10: The Hong Kong Country Club
If you haven’t walked barefoot across the Country Club’s manicured lawn, you’re missing out on a quintessential Hong Kong experience. Founded in the 1960s, this club makes the most of its Southside location with stunning views over Deep Water Bay.
It has plenty of facilities to keep you and your little rascals busy, including tennis and squash courts, a bowling alley, health centre, swimming pool and some truly divine restaurants.
Fun fact: This is the club where former French consul general, Marc Fonbaustier, was expelled in 2010 for stealing two bottles of wine.
Wine and dine: The club has both a Chinese and French-inspired restaurant as well as outdoor Italian dining on the Foreshore Deck and the Garden Room, which serves international cuisine.
For the family: The club has an adventure playground with wooden climbing frames set right next to the lawn, where they can run to their heart’s desire. There’s also an indoor playroom with a full-time supervisor. The littlest members are catered for with events including “Funtastic Sunday,” featuring bouncy castles on the lawn.
Joining & Membership Fee: The waiting list is upwards of 10 years, and applications are assessed according to a strict nationality quota to ensure the organisation’s diversity. Expect an individual membership to set you back HK$460,000, while a corporate membership is HK$5,000,000. Monthly fees are HK$2,500.
No. of Members: 2,000
4/10: The Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club
If you can bear to leave the city for a day, you won’t regret it once you see this charming and relaxed club set at the tip of the Clearwater Bay peninsula. If you want to get your golf on, head to the golf club’s spectacular 18-hole course.
Wine and dine: Work up an appetite with squash, tennis or a workout in the gym (followed by a steam, sauna and massage, of course). Then sip on champagne at the Oasis café as you look out over the enormous pool with uninterrupted views of picturesque coastlines.
There are two dining options available at the country club—Ocean View for Chinese cuisine and dim sum, and Oasis Café for international fare. Horizons at the golf club serves breakfast, lunch and snacks.
For the family: The country club has a great indoor playroom and two outdoor playgrounds. There are also various family activities arranged throughout the year, including a camping trip on the property and a pool party every summer.
Joining & Membership Fee: Members must be recommended by a proposer and a seconder, attend an interview and be approved by the committee. The waiting list is around two years.
Individual fees for the Country Club are HK$880,000 while corporate fees are HK$1,320,000, each with monthly fees of HK$1,600. Individual fees for the Golf and Country Club are HK$4,200,000, while corporate fees are HK$6,300,000 and monthly fees are HK$2,600.
No. of Members: Over 3,000
5/10: The Hong Kong Jockey Club
Forget watching the races from the public stands. Once you’re a member here, you’ll have access to plenty of exclusive venues from which to bet, including restaurants, bars and even a rocking lounge with its own private terrace.
Take advantage of the three fully-equipped clubhouses with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, sports complexes, children’s play areas and more.
Wine and dine: Between the three clubhouses and the two racecourses, you won’t run out of dining options. There are 10 restaurants serving an array of cuisines, plus bars, buffet dining halls and outdoor dining venues. If you’ve still got the energy, head over to Adrenaline bar and lounge in Happy Valley, which is open until midnight.
For the family: All three clubhouses boast fantastic amenities including swimming pools, outdoor areas and playrooms. There are also plenty of horsey activities including riding lessons and the opportunity to adopt and care for the ponies as part of the newly introduced “Fun with Ponies” programme.
Joining & Membership Fee: Anyone can apply to be a member, but corporate membership is by invitation only. Racing members must be voted in and seconded by a resident honorary steward, honorary voting member or voting member of the club. A second resident of the same plus three other members must support your application.
Racing members pay HK$125,000 with monthly fees of HK$650, while full memberships are $HK500,000. Corporate memberships range from HK$2,200,000 to HK$4,400,000 with monthly fees of HK$2,200.
No. of Members: 13,300
6/10: The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
Slip on your Sperry’s and sling your jacket over your shoulder—this is the place to be for yachties and rowers alike. At each of the club’s three waterfront locations, you can enhance your skills with a variety of courses or rent the club’s dinghies at your leisure.
Once you are back on dry land, schmooze with like-minded individuals as you sip on specially curated and subsidised wines. There are plenty of other facilities for landlubbers too, including restaurants, a bowling alley, gym, pool and squash courts.
Wine and dine: There are an array of dining establishments, including fine dining at the Compass Room, casual coffee shop fare, a bar and deck, and BBQ and a-la-carte dining at Middle Island and Shelter Cove.
For the family: This is a great place to encourage your mini-me’s love of the water with fantastic courses starting from the age of 6. Little non-sailors have been kept in mind throughout each location too, with playrooms, playgrounds, pool parties, board games and other fun things for them to do.
Joining and Membership Fee: For the cheapest fees, you’ll need to prove your experience in sailing or rowing and show your willingness to participate in activities with the club. For ordinary membership, you’ll need a proposer from the club. Expect to wait between two to six weeks.
Anordinary single membership is HK$91,800 while an ordinary married couple membership is HK$137,700. There’s also an individual debenture membership at HK$1,875,000 and corporate nominee membership at HK2,250,000. Monthly fees range from HK$2,000 to HK $4,260.
No. of Members: 13,300 (5,800 active members, 7,500 absent members worldwide)
7/10: Hong Kong Football Club
If you’re not at home in sports gear, this probably isn’t the club for you. Most members are here to take advantage of the fantastic collection of indoor and outdoor facilities first and socialize later.
Set in the heart of Happy Valley, this club has Hong Kong’s largest collection of pitches and grounds including football, rugby, netball and hockey, as well as a swimming pool, bowling alley, snooker room, golf simulator and fitness centre.
Wine and dine: With sport being at the forefront here, there are adult and family bars showing a range of games on television. The Sportsman’s bar is the place for beer drinkers with 12 taps of draught and pub-style meals served inside or on the terrace, while the Chairman’s bar provides a more formal setting.
There’s also a coffee shop for casual meals and a fine dining restaurant with a weekly set menu and a comprehensive wine list.
For the family: There’s a lot going on here for even the littlest sportsman, with classes and teams running for all ages, as well as a ten-pin bowling complex and two children’s playrooms. The Christmas fete has seasonal arts and crafts and games for the kids, with music and entertainment and a bar for parents.
Joining & Membership Fee: Sports members are popular here. If you can pass trials and prove your commitment you could be in within a few weeks. Membership is open to all Hong Kong residents.
Non-sports preferred members can expect to pay HK$400,000, while sports preferred members pay HK$25,000. Corporate fees are HK$2,400,000, while monthly fees are HK$1,525.
No. of Members: 3,300
8/10: The China Club, Hong Kong
If it’s classic elegance you’re after, look no further than The China Club. Opened in 1991 by the inimitable late David Tang, the décor is pure 1930s Shanghai, filled with art and antiquities from the era.
The attention to detail here is striking—from the art-deco sweeping staircase to the Bosendorfer grand piano in the corner of the dining room, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re in the middle of one of the world’s most bustling cities.
Culture club: The club boasts a mahjong room and a library with an extensive collection of books on China and the Chinese people, not to mention striking views over our great city.
Wine and dine: The main dining room on the 13th floor prides itself on its authentic Chinese cuisine, or you can simply while away your evening drinking at the ultra-luxe Long Bar. There are also plenty of rooms dedicated to private dining with banqueting menus available to suit every taste.
While little ones are welcome at this club, we suggest you leave them at home to avoid any unwanted accidents with the expensive artworks.
Joining & Membership Fee: To join, simply fill in the entry form from the club and you’re good to go. Membership fees range from HK$120,000-$150,000.
No. of Members: Around 3,000
9/10: The Hong Kong Golf Club
This is a must for any golfer worth his salt in Hong Kong. Set on the south side of the island across from Deep Water Bay, the stunning nine-hole par 56 course takes up a large piece of prime real estate and has the price tag to match. The club prides itself on nurturing local talent, and has many high-profile members including the up-and-coming Tuen-Mun born Tiffany Chan.
If you fancy a bit of a time out, get hit the gym for a Body Torque Asia personal training session or relax in the secluded walled-in swimming pool. Be sure to head to the sauna to ease those muscles afterwards. The club’s other site in Fanling boasts three additional 18-hole courses.
Wine and dine: Enjoy Cantonese BBQ and dim sum at The Pavilion, or sample international delights at The Fairway Grill. For more laidback dining head to the verandah and bar or, at the other end of the scale, hold a banquet for up to 115 guests at The Orchid Room overlooking the golf course.
For the family: Promotions for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are popular, as is the Family BBQ by the pool, which includes inflatables for the little ones.
Joining & Membership Fee: There’s been no opportunity to join this club for a while now. Don’t give up though, as they do occasionally issue a limited number of new memberships. A second-hand membership will set you back around HK$17 million.
No. of Members: Around 2,500
10/10: The Hong Kong Club
You’ll know you’ve made it if you get to call this your home away from home. Founded in 1846 and full of old world charm and elegant colonial décor, it harks back to an era when only men would meet to quaff whiskey and discuss business. Thankfully, it has moved on from the days when women weren’t allowed, but exclusivity is still key.
Known simply as “The Club” to its members, its current Central location houses 25 floors of incredible leisure and fitness facilities including restaurants, squash courts, a bowling alley, a billiards room, a fantastic library and even its own barber.
Wine and dine: Two restaurants and three bars serving everything from light lunch and snacks to Chinese and Western fine dining. There’s also a selection of private function rooms and a garden lounge. You wouldn’t want to look out of place here, so make sure you check the website for the club’s extensive dress codes.
No photos: Memories of your days here are for your eyes only, as no photography is allowed anywhere in the club.
If exquisite artistry gives you goosebumps, these ventures may prove irresistible.
The Warehouse Hotel, Singapore
Before opening as a boutique 37-room bolthole early this
year, The Warehouse Hotel enjoyed a storied – albeit muddled – past as part of
the Straits of Malacca trade route. Originally built as a spice ‘godown’
(warehouse) in 1895, the building was at the epicentre of underground activity
and illegal distilleries – and was even a popular disco in the 1980s. The task
of giving this heritage building a much needed new lease of life fell to
acclaimed Singaporean hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group, who
enlisted the expertise of local architects Zarch Collaboratives and design
studio Asylum. The team pledged to keep the entire scheme local, and a focus on
homegrown talent is seen throughout – right down to the in-room cups and
saucers made by a local ceramic studio. The hotel has character in spades, with
a unique design that offers a ‘fresh perspective on the term
“industrial”‘, according to Asylum. Large vault ceilings, exposed
brickwork and earthy tones nod to its industrial past, as does the statement
custom-made lighting fixture made up of wheels and pulleys in the main foyer.
Bisate Lodge, Rwanda
The beautiful Bisate Lodge sets a new standard in luxury
accommodation in northern Rwanda, and it’s not just the hotel’s design and
multiple five-star amenities that are impressive. The eight-bedroom rooftop
resort is a nature lover’s paradise, with the hotel itself nestled within a
natural amphitheatre formed by a long-extinct volcanic cone. The Volcanoes
National Park is just a stone’s throw away, and each room looks out across the
majestic Virunga Mountains, home to the iconic mountain gorilla. A guided tour
to explore the area and catch a glimpse of these magnificent,
critically-endangered primates in their natural habitat is a must and can be
organised through the hotel. Bisate Lodge has sustainability at its heart, with
plans to introduce indigenous plants to the immediate surrounding area among
other initiatives. Inside, the lodge’s thatched pods take inspiration from
traditional Rwandan design, with domed roofs and natural materials such as wood
and volcanic stone balanced by thoroughly modern touches and bright colours.
Park Hyatt, Bangkok
Originally scheduled to open back in 2014, the striking new
Park Hyatt Bangkok is finally open for business. The five-star hotel is Park
Hyatt’s first venture in Thailand, and no expense was spared to create a truly
original feat of contemporary architecture. The hotel occupies the top floors
of the luxury new Central Embassy shopping mall, and its facade is clad in
extruded aluminum tiles to create a shimmering pattern that draws on
traditional Thai architecture. Inside, the ambience is a lot more restrained,
with an elegant, neutral palette of creams and silver providing a calming
contrast to the bustling city outside. Because of the building’s distinctive
curved shape, nearly all of the 222 rooms and suites have different layouts,
and all are fitted with luxurious rain showers and deep soak baths that look
out across Bangkok’s beautiful skyline.
Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Opened in 2004, Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo is an elegant
hotel with a pool area designed by none other than Chanel’s Karl
Lagerfeld. The “haute couture” pool setting, known as Odyssey,
features a fresco-style installation made up of 15 glass panels portraying
Ulysses’ journey. The hotel also boasts Michelin starred dining by chef Joel
Robuchon, as well as beautifully curated gardens. “Behind the
monumental Belle Epoque facade, the place has both pin-sharp classical elegance
– and melodious modern rhythm,” says the Daily
Telegraph. Designer Jacques Garcia is the person you bring in “when
you want to achieve this mix of the gracefully traditional and the
Alila Fort Bishangarh, Jaipur, Rajasthan
The newly opened Alila Fort is a hotel that’s truly fit for
royalty. The 230-year old warrior fortress, located in the picturesque village
of Bishangarh, is steeped in character and history and is a prime example of
Jaipur Gharana architecture. Following a seven-year restoration project, the
fort has reopened as a grand resort, the latest opening from luxury hotel group
Alila. The imposing fortress structure has been left intact with its towering
turrets, arched windows, even a granite dungeon, now a luxury spa. It’s a
spectacular sight to behold and full to the brim with five-star amenities
including a library, pool veranda and terrace, cigar lounge and regal banquet
hall. The surrounding views of the Aravalli Mountain range only add to its
majesty and mystique.
Four Seasons Miami, The Surf Club
When American businessman Harvey Firestone founded his
private members’ club on a stretch of pristine Miami beach, it became one of
the city’s most prestigious addresses, attracting everyone from Elizabeth
Taylor to Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and even Winston Churchill. Following its
eventual demise in 2013, the iconic club was purchased by local developer,
Nadim Ashi, who teamed up with hotel group Four Seasons to transform it into a
luxury 77-bed bolthole. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Meier was
tasked with reimagining the club while maintaining its original charm, with
French designer Joseph Dirand masterminding the chic, minimalist interiors. The
hotel now features a beachfront spa with traditional hammam, three pools,
champagne bar and – launched in early 2018 – a concept restaurant from
Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller.
The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah, Dubai
Just half an hour’s drive from Dubai International
Airport, the Al Zorah Nature Reserve in northern Ajman is a verdant paradise
replete with lush mangroves, crystal-clear lagoons and white-sand beaches.
Located just across from a new 18-hole golf course in the heart of the reserve
is the latest opening from the award-winning Oberoi Hotels & Resorts group.
The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah is a luxury, eco-friendly wellness resort with
a striking, minimalist design made up of interconnecting buildings surrounded
by shallow water pools with panoramic sea views from every angle. Light-filled
suites and villas – some with temperature-controlled plunge pools – exude the
kind of natural, pared-back luxury that runs throughout the entire resort,
which also includes two restaurants, a poolside health bar with lounge and a spa
with Turkish baths.
Artist Residence, Oxfordshire
The Artist Residence hotel group, which operates boutique
boltholes in Brighton, Pimlico and Penzance, has added a fourth property to its
portfolio in the Oxfordshire countryside. Artist Residence, Oxfordshire, a
converted thatched farmhouse in South Leigh, reopened in May as a cosy pub and
restaurant with five rooms. A further seven rooms in the adjoining cottage and
stables will open later in the year. Original features, such as dark-oak
panelling, exposed beams and brickwork, are teamed with William Morris
wallpaper and a pop of signature contemporary colour, courtesy of trendy artist
duo, the Connor Brothers.
Le Nolinski, Paris
Luxury French hospitality group Evok have pulled out all the
stops for their first hotel launch in the capital. Le Nolinski is a triumph of
Art-Deco glamour with contemporary flourishes, located on the prestigious
Avenue de l’Opera in Paris’s 1st arrondissement. Housed in former office spaces
in a historic Haussmannian building, Le Nolinski’s renovation was masterminded
by local architect and interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot, who was briefed to
design the scheme as if designing the home of a wealthy fictional traveller.
The result is rather special. Undeniable luxurious with a touch of Belle Epoque
glamour in the magnificent Carrara marble reception and spacious suites named
after the likes of Josephine Baker and Ernest Hemingway, the design also has a
sense of playfulness in unexpected bursts of colour and quirky accessories such
as vintage radios, cosy fabrics, statement sculptures and light fixtures. The
candlelit subterranean spa by La Colline is arguably the highlight of the
hotel, featuring a 16-metre pool with mirrored ceilings and stonewalls in a
masterstroke of striking, minimalist design.
L’Hotel Marrakech by Jasper Conran
Speaking of interior maestros, few designers carry quite
such industry prestige as the Conran clan. Jasper, who made his first creative
forays in fashion, has recently branched into hospitality with the launch of a
luxury hotel, an ambition he’s harboured since the age of eight. L’Hotel
Marrakech is a converted 19th-century palace with just five spacious suites
(each with a private balcony) surrounding a large courtyard complete with tiled
fountain and swimming pool. Conran’s evident good taste underlies everything,
(the designer had a hands-on role in all aspects of the renovation and design).
Traditional local crafts sit alongside antique furniture, original artwork and
paintings from Conran’s personal collection, giving the riad a relaxed yet
authentic aesthetic with a touch of 1930s elegance. Up on the terracotta roof
terrace, the stunning views across the Atlas Mountains are the only visual
The Silo, Cape Town
The latest opening from The Royal Portfolio group is so much
more than just a new hotel. The Silo is an ambitious five-star retreat set to
transform Cape Town’s cultural scene, with hopes it will become as synonymous
with the city skyline as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The Grain Silo building
opened back in 1924 and was, at the time, the tallest building in sub-Saharan
Africa. When The Royal Portfolio owner Liz Biden secured it for her next
venture, maintaining the building’s history and industrial roots was integral
to its renovation. Thomas Heatherwick was brought in for his architectural
expertise, and his 18ft ‘pillowed’ windows in a unique inflated dome shape are
nothing short of works of art. At night, the effect is of a lantern protruding
from the V&A waterfront. Biden has decorated each of the 28 suites
(including a penthouse) individually with curated artwork and pared-back luxury
finishes in keeping with the original design. The lower half of the Silo
building is now home to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), a
new cultural institution, which is aiming to rival the likes of London’s Tate
Modern and NYC’s MoMA.
Soho House, Barcelona
Trust the effortlessly cool Soho House group to make its
mark on Spain’s coolest city. The 18th branch of the ever-expanding Soho House
portfolio is housed in a grand 19th century apartment block on the edge of
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. Spread across six floors, the new hotel (which is
open to non-members) employs the tried-and-tested Soho House interior design
formula of earthy colours and country-house chic mixed with local finds; think
Mediterranean tiles, patterned rugs, textiles and exposed red brick. There’s
also the ubiquitous rooftop pool, flanked on one side by striped daybeds
overlooking the picturesque Port Vell marina, and features Soho House’s only
indoor pool inside the vast Cowshed Spa.
Haymarket by Scandic, Stockholm
Sweden is one of the world’s undisputed design capitals,
famous for its minimalist architecture and style. Minimalism, however, is the
last word that comes to mind when stepping into the new Haymarket by Scandic
hotel. This imposing 405-bedroom bolthole is located within the former Paul
Urbanus Bergström (PUB) department store, where Greta Garbo worked in the
millinery department in the 1920s. A decadent Art Deco theme runs throughout
the interior scheme, which was masterminded by local design studio Koncept.
Geometric shapes, brass finishes, rich jewel tones and heavy furniture fitted
with Hollywood-style spotlight bulbs creates a bold aesthetic with a hint of
Miami glamour, while still managing to feel like a boutique hotel in spite of
its impressive size.
The Whitby, New York
The Whitby is the second New York opening from the
award-winning Firmdale Hotels group, and the 10th worldwide. Located just two
blocks from Central Park, The Whitby is spread across 16 floors with
floor-to-ceiling windows on every level. The task of designing the 87
guestrooms naturally fell to Kit Kemp, Firmdale co-founder and Design Director.
Renowned for her use of bold colour, pattern and textiles, as well as having a
keen eye for contemporary art, Kemp’s signature style permeates every room and
space. Her influence can also be seen in the book-lined drawing room, private
outdoor terrace, orangery and 130-seat cinema room.
San Luis, South Tyrol
This modern fairy-tale retreat in Italy’s rugged South Tyrol
region is a bastion of peace and luxury, comprising beautiful treehouses and
gorgeous lakeside chalets built from local wood.
All chalets come with their own hot tubs and saunas and are
full of exquisite homemade furniture that combine the historical and
contemporary. The treehouses are set up high in the forest, while a remarkable
communal spa features floor-to-ceiling windows, open fireplaces, an
inside-outside pool and hot tubs in the middle of the lake.
As the hotel’s website says, this amazing little retreat is
truly the realisation of the original South Tyrolean “summer freshness”.
Borgo Egnazia, Puglia
This unique and stunning hotel, created in the mould of a
traditional Puglian village, was designed by local architect Pino Brescia under
the vision of the Melpignano family.
Just a stone’s throw from the Adriatic Coast, Borgo Egnazia
is a spacious yet private compilation of 63 luxurious suites, 92 mini houses
and 29 villas, perfect for families.
Another world-class spa takes the edge off a tough day of
sunbathing and wine tasting, complete with an Aroma Lab, private infrared
sauna, a cryotherapy cabin and a meditation room.
Pilgrimage to Southern Hebrides island captures spirit of single-malt whisky
The following article originally appeared in the April 27th edition of the Times Colonist.
My husband loves his whisky. The 16 bottles in his current stock bear the names of such distilleries as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Ardbeg and Bruichladdich — all from the Scottish Isle of Islay (pronounced EYE-la), renowned for its strong, peaty, single-malt whisky.
He opens a bottle, takes a whiff and pronounces it “nectar of the Gods.” To me, it smells more like a medicinal solution best left to the operating room. I’ve seen the flavour described as a “campfire in your mouth” and “rubber, wood, fire, dirt and leather — but in a great way.” Praise like that might explain why Islay whisky is known as the Marmite of Scotch.
“You either love it or you hate it,” said Graeme Littlejohn, deputy director at the Scotch Whisky Association of Scotland. “There are Scotches that are produced on the island which have a very highly peated quality, very smoky whiskies. There are some whiskies on the island — like Laphroaig, like Lagavulin — that people will try for the first time and they will never drink anything else, that will be their drink for life because they love the peated quality of it.”
So for love of the guy who loves his Islay whiskies, a late summer visit to Scotland would require a visit to the southernmost island of the Inner Southern Hebrides.
Nine distilleries make their spirits on this island that stretches just 40 kilometres long and 24 km wide, just a bit smaller in size than Greater Victoria’s 13 municipalities. But, with only 3,228 residents, it’s home to less than 1/100th of our region’s population. Driving around Islay, you see a lot of wide open fields dotted with cows and sheep. And a lot of peat bogs — a spongy wetland with few trees and shifting ground that makes for some bumpy roads.
It’s the peat, lashed by sea spray during frequent Atlantic storms, that gives Islay whiskies their distinctive taste and aroma. That and the sea water, which is why the distilleries are sited along the shoreline.
By British law, whisky cannot be sold until it has been aged for three years. The basic process for making single-malt Scotch follows five steps: malting barley by steeping it in water and then drying the malt in a kiln (which, on Islay, usually means burning peat), mashing the grist and mixing it with hot water to create a sugary liquid known as wort (with the remaining solids used for cattle feed), fermenting the wort in large vats to create “wash” (which tastes like beer), distilling it in pot and spirit stills, then maturing it in oak casks. However, no two distilleries do this exactly same way. That’s what each company likes to show off during its distillery tours.
Pilgrimages to Scotland’s 128 whisky distilleries set a record in 2017: 1.9 million visits by tourists from all over the world. The eight distilleries on Islay that year — one more has opened since — saw 150,000 visits.
“This is an industry that is 500 years old and it began exporting from Scotland to countries around the world in the mid-19th century,” Littlejohn said.
“It has really developed since then from a primarily domestic spirit to one that is exported to 180 countries.”
Lots of distilleries are investing in tourism, adding welcome centres and cafés, offering a variety of tours and tastings, even producing less time-consuming spirits — anything that promotes whisky and helps distilleries fill the financial gap while whisky is maturing for as long as 20 years or more, Littlejohn said.
For tourists who arrive by car — like the German fellow we met at one distillery who was making his annual Scotch restocking tour of Islay — distilleries provide tiny glass jars (known as “driving drams”) so you can take away your whisky tastings to enjoy later.
You can walk to some of the distilleries. In fact, Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig are close enough together that they’ve built a 5.5-km path, accessible for walkers, cyclists and wheelchairs, between Port Ellen and the distilleries.
That means you can set your own schedule and drink all you want before stumbling back to your starting point. You can also hire a taxi to get around.
We booked from Canada one of many tours that prearranges transportation, tours and accommodation. We joined 12 other pilgrims — two Canadians, two Americans, four New Zealanders and four Icelanders — on a comfy, 16-passenger mini-bus.
Our bus driver, Moray Walker, looked like he’d been sent by central casting — tall, bald, built like a rugby player, clad in a vest and kilt, sporting tattoos that included the thistle emblem of Scotland, a Celtic sword, skulls and roses.
His accent was as thick and deep as a full-bodied whisky. He likes to say that he took up guiding tours after getting out of jail. He was a prison guard for 25 years.
On Islay, we stayed at Bowmore House, a five-bedroom bed and breakfast, named after the small town’s capital.
When it’s overbooked, as it was when we were there, some guests stay next door in an Air Bnb-style apartment with three bedrooms, a living room and kitchen.
Andrew Jackson, who has owned and operated the BnB with his wife Alison for about eight years, used to work as a criminal lawyer in England’s Lake District. He came to Islay to visit his favourite distillery — Laphroaig — and fell in love with the place.
As well as supporting some of the world’s best distilleries, the island is beautiful, he said. “The beaches, the nature — nothing compared to Canada in the sense of size — but you’ve got a bit of everything here, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the beaches. Everything is on your doorstep.”
The hearty breakfast at Bowmore House, like most in Scotland, includes haggis and blood pudding, but Jackson also offers up a dram from his selection of Islay whiskies.
My husband estimates that, given the number of tastings at each distillery, we were offered close to 600 ml of Scotch over two days. That doesn’t include the whisky available at breakfast in our guest house and on the menu almost everywhere at lunch and dinner. And it doesn’t count the several drams of gin we drank at Bruichladdich, where locally foraged botanicals are added to berries, barks, seeds and peels, distilled in spirit and Islay spring water, and then bottled under the Botanist label. Since it takes barely weeks to make gin, selling it helps top up the coffers while waiting years for the whisky to mature, the distillery guide noted.
For aficionados, whisky tours offer a peek into the magic process that creates the spirit they love. Islay is especially appealing because of the unique history and tastings at the distilleries, said Páll Svavar Pálsson, an engineer, who joined our tour with three friends from his whisky club in Iceland.
While tasting the range of whiskies is fun, it is a special thrill to fill your own bottle from a cask, as Pálsson did at Bunnahabhain.
At each of the seven distilleries we visited, knowledgeable, enthusiastic guides made the tours engaging, especially at Lagavulin. That visit isn’t so much a tour as an audience with the legendary Iain McArthur. He has worked in the distillery for 48 years, most of that time in a warehouse full of casks like the one we were ushered into. His grandfather and uncle also worked there while other family members worked at other island distilleries — the “family business” for his and many others on Islay where the whisky industry is the main employer. McArthur talked about the history of the distillery — founded in 1816, though distilling on the site is said to date back to the mid-1700s — and the process of making whisky.
He asked if we’ve heard of the “angel share.” In the process of making whisky, two per cent of the volume is lost to evaporation every year for up to about 10 years, though every cask is different. The excitement began when McArthur dipped a large metal cylinder into a cask that held the last measure of whisky from this year’s limited-edition release for the Islay Jazz Festival, held every September. More tastings followed from casks of six-, 16-, 20-, 21- and a 25-year-old vintages.
At Lagavulin — as well as Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Kilchoman — we got to keep the small tasting glasses etched with the distillery’s name. Laphroaig’s glasses hang from a lanyard, presumably to keep your hands free to check out the merchandise in its well-stocked shop. The other distilleries packed the glass souvenirs in small boxes. All the distilleries have shops that sell more than just bottles of whisky.
While the Scots might not be known for their cuisine, we’d heard about the great food in the Ardbeg distillery’s café. A giant copper still, sitting on a raised platform, greets visitors to Ardbeg. Founded in 1815, it was once the largest whisky producer on Islay, but closed and changed hands numerous times. It was pulled out of mothballs in 1997, opened a visitor centre and café and was voted distillery of the year in 1998. The Old Kiln Café — in the original 1815 kiln room — serves tasty sandwiches, paninis and toasties, all with crisp, fresh salad, for between £4.50 to £5.95. Hearty meals — fish pie, steak pie, cheesy macaroni or haggis, neeps and tatties — are priced from £9.95 to £11.95.
There’s also a lovely café in the Kilchoman distillery, where you can get a very fine bowl of Cullen skink, a thick Scottish soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions for £6.50. Known as Islay’s farm distillery, Kilchoman opened in 2005, but recently lost its title as the island’s newest distillery after Ardnahoe opened in late 2018. Currently the smallest Islay distillery, Kilchoman is building a new stillhouse, mash house and tun room, which will double its production to 460,000 litres per year. It’s the only distillery that does everything — from growing its barley to bottling the whisky — on Islay.
Kilchoman, Bowmore and Laphroaig are among the few whisky distilleries that still use malting floors instead of germination boxes or drums. Once grain has been steeped, it is spread evenly by hand into a thick layer on a stone floor where it is turned at least twice a day, every day, to keep it oxygenated and to dissipate heat.
My favourite stop — and the only place I managed to down all three drams of whisky offered — featured the most dramatic setting, looking across the Sound of Islay to the mountains on the Isle of Jura. And it almost didn’t happen. Our driver offered the special tasting at the Caol Ila (pronounced cull-eela) distillery as an option, but it’s hosted outdoors on a picnic table, so depended on good weather. The skies seemed threatening in the morning, but cleared just in time for our visit.
The melt-in-your-mouth handmade chocolate paired incredibly well with the whisky. Mind you, Caol Ila produces one of the Island’s lighter whiskies, often used in blended varieties. In the sunshine, sipping whisky, savouring fine chocolate and soaking in the setting, it seemed that a whisky tour was a fine way to enjoy the spirit of Scotland.
IF YOU GO:
You can fly directly to the island’s airport from Glasgow or take the ferry from Kennacraig, about 2 1/2 hours from Glasgow. The ferry crosses to Islay in two hours, if you’re going to Port Askaig in the north, or two hours and 20 minutes going to Port Ellen in the south. The 507-passenger, 68-car MV Hebridean Isles will feel familiar to anyone who has travelled to or from Vancouver Island by ferry. To get around to the distilleries, you can drive across on the ferry or bring your bike, because the island is mostly flat.
Whisky tours: We travelled with Scottish Routes (scottishroutes.com). A four-day bus tour to Islay, starting from either Glasgow or Edinburgh, is £650 or about $1,110, including transportation, bed and breakfast, and tours with tastings at up to seven distilleries. Lots of other tours are available. Check that they include fees for entry and tasting at distilleries. You can also plan your own itinerary by booking with individual distilleries and hiring taxis to get around.
CFB Esquimalt’s Naval & Military Museum is proud to announce their upcoming special exhibit titled “Hero Warship: HMCS Beacon Hill and Her Daring Commander” which will highlight the WWII Canadian frigate which served as Victoria’s namesake ship during the war and immediate post-war era. Cdr Ted Simmons was a famous Canadian Naval figure of the Battle of the Atlantic who was also a Victoria native.
The Naval & Military Museum will be open over the Victoria Day long weekend, after the official opening on May 17, 2019.
Growing numbers of travelers are staying at these old-school institutions, swapping the hotel experience for one that they say offers culture, history and a sense of belonging.
When Kwame Campbell, 48, a real-estate conference producer, travels to Providence, R.I., for events at his alma mater, Brown, he stays at the Hope Club in the College Hill neighborhood, chartered in 1876. “I love it,” he said. “It is like an Edith Wharton novel, one of those turn-of-the-century mansions.”
Mr. Campbell said he enjoys the sense of history, though room modernizations can make for unusual configurations. “My shower had a frosted window overlooking the hallway,” he said. “It was definitely a moment out of ‘The Shining.’ ”
As more boutique hotels offer a retro, club-like experience, some travelers have discovered that they prefer the real thing: lodging overnight in private, 19th-century clubs. So-called city clubs offer culture, history and a sense of belonging under one landmark roof, and, although it might sound counterintuitive, are often cheaper than hotels. The Hope Club, for example, starts at $110 a night.
Occupancy rates in city clubs, while lower than hotels (61 percent versus 69 percent in 2017) are on the rise overall, according to Jonathan McCabe, a consultant to the club industry who is the former general manager of the Union League Club of Chicago. “The Union League Club of Chicago, Union League Club Philadelphia, The Yale Club in New York and the New York Athletic Club are all chockablock full in their guest rooms,” he said.
The catch — which is also a great part of the appeal — is getting in.
American city clubs, many affiliated with elite universities, date back a century or more and come with some questionable historical baggage. Early city clubs excluded women, Jews, African-Americans and other minority groups.
These days, nearly all are coed, diverse and far more inclusive than they once were. The Princeton Club of New York accepts not only Princeton alumni but graduates and faculty of 16 associate schools, including Villanova, William & Mary and Bucknell; the Cornell Club-New York, to which Mr. Campbell belongs, admits members who are graduates of Brown, Tulane and Notre Dame, among others. Some clubs offer annual membership for under $1,000 a year to young applicants. Members can dine, read, drink or go to programs at their home clubs, and receive a major travel perk: They can lodge overnight in similar clubs worldwide at member rates.
City clubs, by virtue of their long history, can charge low room rates because most are exempt from federal income tax. They are often located in city centers, in areas where comparable hotels might charge twice the rate. The Los Angeles Athletic Club, which rents rooms to the public starting at $249, has been in its downtown home since 1912, before downtown Los Angeles’s golden age and its more recent resurgence with the addition of the Nomad and the Ace to the local hotel scene.
Some city clubs like the L.A.A.C. have opened their rooms to the public because of economic circumstances, realizing they needed to increase occupancy. But they must walk a delicate balance. To avoid tax penalties, social clubs cannot derive more than 15 percent of their gross receipts from nonmember use.
Old-fashioned in London
The East India Club in London is near St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall. Patrick Williams, 52, a marketing vice president and Irishman living in New York, stays there through his membership in the Stephens Green Hibernian Club in Dublin.
The East India Club dates to the mid-19th century and was founded by servants of the East India Company and commissioned officers of Her Majesty’s Army and Navy. “It’s an old-fashioned part of London that’s right in the heart of the hedge-fund and private-equity industries,” said Mr. Williams. “There is also something rather James Bond-esque about saying, ‘I’m staying at the East India Club in St. James Square.’” But the East India Club does not have Bond-level luxury prices: a single with a shower is 87 pounds (about $113).
Modern clubs like Soho House in New York City were founded in the tradition of 19th-century clubs, and their members include young, media-savvy professionals who find athletic and university clubs too stodgy. Soho House has an international club network of its own, with 23 “houses” globally, 14 of them with bedrooms to rent for the night. All can be booked by members and nonmembers.
Natacha Tonissoo, 32, a London-born Brooklynite who works in travel public relations, joined Dumbo House in Brooklyn for $3,200 a year so she could utilize Soho House’s other locations. On a spring trip to London, she visited the White City Club, located in the former headquarters of the BBC, and used the gym, pools and sauna.
Why not save the annual fee and stay at a hotel? “It’s the access, the exclusivity and the amenities,” she said. “I’ve met people in similar industries and made business contacts. A hotel is a one-off experience, no matter how aesthetically pleasing it might be.”
To be sure, Airbnb has hurt city clubs, just as it has hurt hotels. The 2008 economic downturn was also a challenge, as membership rolls thinned. In recent years, many city clubs realized they were not maximizing revenue from rooms and launched multimillion dollar renovations. The University Club of Milwaukee, which merged with a country club, renovated and updated its rooms in 2015. The Detroit Club closed its 1892 building for four years and now has 10 new bedroom suites, in contrast to a few sparse rooms before, plus whirlpools and saunas.
Private clubs that open rooms to the public take measures to ensure that guests know the rules in advance; most have dress codes and other regulations. The Los Angeles Athletic Club sends its house rules in confirmation emails and on a card given guests at check-in that reads: “Conduct yourself with dignity, grace and courtesy at all times. Appropriate attire is expected. Smart casual, a collar shirt, no baseball caps, no shorts for evening use …”
The privilege of exclusivity
Though some competitive hotels (think the Ace) have out-clubbed the clubs by offering an elite feeling, rich aesthetics and social events, they are nonetheless not private. Expensive does not necessarily mean exclusive. “We like being members of a club,” said Jason Kaufman, author of “For the Common Good? American Civic Life and the Golden Age of Fraternity,” which examined blue-collar fraternal organizations between the Civil and First World Wars. “We’re liked and accepted, and we benefit from the kindness of strangers who share our affiliations.”
“The reason people stay in private clubs,” said Mr. McCabe, the industry consultant, “is so they don’t have to be with the great unwashed masses, the proletariat. I was at the Four Seasons in Chicago for high tea and there was a man wearing a shirt that had the F word on it. And my grandchildren were with me.”
For other travelers, the appeal is the attention to service. “Nobody is looking for a tip or a handout, and is really not supposed to take one,” said Marsha Goldstein, 73, a retired tour-company owner and member of the Union League Club of Chicago who has stayed at private clubs all over the world. “They have set the bar very high for service, and if you don’t get it, you need to be vocal. It’s critical to clubs’ success to have you be vocal if you’re unhappy.”
The personal touch
Private clubs also offer safety, a factor that deters some solo travelers from Airbnb, as well as networking opportunities. “I really think city clubs are going to explode in the next decade — at least the ones who decide to put business connections and security at the forefront,” Gabe Aluisy, who hosts a radio show about private clubs and wrote a book on private club marketing, wrote in an email. “You won’t get a personal introduction to a key business contact in a city from a hotel concierge, but you might from a private club manager or membership director who knows the membership intimately. And with security concerns all over the world, private clubs are a comfortable refuge where patrons have been vetted.”
Robin Lee Allen, 34, a private-equity fund manager and Babson College alum who belonged to the Princeton Club of New York, moved from New York to San Francisco in 2016 and used reciprocal privileges at the 19th-century University Club of San Francisco, atop Nob Hill. He threw his 33rd birthday party in its red-walled Black Cat Bar, which features memorabilia from the now-defunct Press Club of San Francisco, and stayed over after his friends left. His room, he said, resembled “a Westin. But you’re paying for opening the door and knowing nothing weird will happen when you’re walking around the club in the middle of the night. It really isn’t about ostentatiousness or even showing off. It’s about knowing that as you walk in and out, people will recognize you by name and by face.” Mr. Allen is moving to France soon for a work assignment and switched to Harvard Club of Boston because of its wide reciprocal network.
Of course, private clubs are not for everyone. Children are not always welcome. Cellphone and laptop use is often permitted only in certain locations, sometimes as small as a closet. Dress codes might prohibit jeans, flip flops and baseball caps. Then there is the elitist history.
Mr. Campbell, the Brown alum, who hails from the Golden Isles of Georgia and is a first-generation college graduate, said this did not bother him. “The Hope Club was probably no blacks, no Jews at one point,” he said. (It was.) “But things have changed. You need to exercise your right to use those clubs and have access to them because it’s a right that you’ve earned. It’s a sense of belonging someplace where you formerly did not belong and claiming it. It’s my form of protest, to be the black person who shows up.”
A Bonhams porter shows the bottle of Macallan Valerio Adamai 1926 whisky to packed auction house in Edinburgh today. The whisky was bottled in 1986 having been stored in a vat for 60 years previously
The world’s most expensive bottle of whisky – described by experts as the ‘Holy Grail’ – has been sold for nearly £850,000 at auction.
The 60-year-old Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 sold for a record-breaking £848,750 when it went under the hammer today at Bonhams Whisky Sale in Edinburgh.
Although 12 bottles of the vintage whisky were produced, it is not known how many of them still exist.
Bonhams auctioneer Charles Graham-Campbell takes bids during the sale of this whisky.
The bottle (right), which was expected to fetch between £700,000 and £900,000 ended up being sold for a record-breaking £848,750
One is said to have been destroyed in an earthquake in Japan in 2011, and it is believed that at least one of them has been opened and consumed.
Since the auction was announced earlier this year, Bonhams has been receiving inquiries from across the world, particularly China, for the tipple.
Bonhams Whisky specialist in Edinburgh, Martin Green, said: ‘I am delighted at this exceptional result.
‘It is a great honour to have established a new world record, and particularly exciting to have done so here in Scotland, the home of whisky.
‘Bonhams now holds the record for the three most valuable bottles of whisky ever sold at auction.’
The whisky was bottled in 1986 having been stored in a vat for 60 years previously.
Bonhams’ auction house in Edinburgh was packed out for the sale of the whisky today. Martin Green, Bonhams’ whisky specialist Martin Green said he was delighted with the result of the auction
Although 12 bottles of the vintage whisky (pictured) were produced, it is not known how many of them still exist. When they were bottled in 1986 Macallan commissioned world-famous pop artist Valerio Adami to design a label for the 12 bottles. Valerio Adami is an Italian artist famous for painting bold, flat forms outlined in thick, black lines, in a style reminiscent of comic art
The price keeps on rising at Bonhams’ auction house in Edinburgh where the whisky – made in 1926 – fetched a whopping £848,750 at auction
The whisky was expected to fetch between £700,000 and £900,000 at auction.
Macallan commissioned two world-famous Pop Artists, Valerio Adami and Peter Blake, to design labels for a very limited edition of 24 bottles -12 of the Adami and 12 of the Blake labels.
Valerio Adami (born 1935) is an Italian artist famous for painting bold, flat forms outlined in thick, black lines, in a style reminiscent of comic art.
He is among the most acclaimed of 20th Century Pop Artists.
The previous record for a whisky sale was held by another bottle of The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 which was sold at Bonhams Hong Kong in May.
It was sold for a world record-breaking price of £814,081 – the most paid for a bottle of Scotch whisky at public auction at the time.
Members of the Harvard Club are upset about a proposal to turn the majestic Harvard Hall, designed by the famed architect Charles McKim, into a dining room. Credit: Ramsay de Give for The New York Times
On the wood-paneled walls of Harvard Hall, the majestic heart of the Harvard Club in Midtown Manhattan, hang portraits of Teddy Roosevelt and other notable graduates. The head of an elephant, a gift to the club, hovers in an alcove where members luxuriate on plush leather couches to read and sometimes nap.
It is a place of elegance and quiet contemplation, and as rarefied spaces go, there are few more rarefied. “I see it as Harvard asserting its primacy as an early American institution,” Barry Bergdoll, a professor of modern architectural history at Columbia University, said of the room.
But when the club’s leadership proposed turning Harvard Hall into a dining room, the sniping among members had all the gentility of a barroom brawl.
“I have been called a fascist dictator,” Michael Holland, the club president, told more than 200 unhappy members during a meeting on Sept. 12.
Harvard Hall has been used for dining before, from 1905 to 1915. Credit: Harvard Club
The crowd booed. “I am not defensive,” he said.
According to people in attendance and a recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times, one member accused Mr. Holland of sending misleading emails. People clapped when a person called for the club’s leadership to resign. Still others questioned why a change was necessary given the club’s overall financial health.
Depending on whom one talks to, the proposed change to Harvard Hall is either a vast conspiracy to turn the esteemed club into a catering-venue-for-hire or an attempt by the leadership to stem losses in its food and beverage business.
It is not uncommon in the genteel world of New York private clubs for members to weigh profit and convenience. But the members of the Harvard Club seem to be taking this proposal personally.
Ivan Shumkov, an architect, called it one of the most sacred spaces in New York, having been created by an architectural icon, the Harvard alumnus Charles McKim. “If we destroy Harvard Hall,” he said that night, “I think it will be the worst thing ever.”
While refugees of the Yale Club, for example, have long complained it is more corporate than clubby, the Harvard Club, on West 44th Street, has maintained a familial appeal. The membership, roughly 13,000, is made up mostly of faculty, graduates and their spouses. There is a gym with squash courts and guest rooms decorated with university memorabilia for overnight stays. Every year the club holds its own Christmas tree lighting. New York residents pay as much as $2,147 annually in dues, with nonresidents and newer graduates paying less.
A chandelier, decorated with the university shield, in Harvard Hall. Credit: Ramsay de Give for The New York Times
What makes the ruckus at the Harvard Club particularly sensitive is Harvard Hall itself. Mr. McKim built the club, adding Harvard Hall, with its blush-colored French stone walls and two walk-in fireplaces, in 1905. He and his firm, McKim, Mead & White, designed some of the most celebrated Beaux-Art architecture in America, including the University Club of New York, much of Columbia University, the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Boston Public Library.
“It is quite distinct in New York,” Mr. Bergdoll said of Harvard Hall. “It is meant to represent Harvard.”
Like many fights, the one at the Harvard Club started over money. Mr. Holland, the owner of a private investment firm who like other club officers is a volunteer, said that three years ago, the club instituted 22 recommendations to shore up its finances. One recommendation not pursued at the time was to move the a la carte dining service from the dining room, with its airy windows and high balcony, into Harvard Hall. The idea was not unprecedented; Harvard Hall hosted diners from 1905 to 1915.
Since those changes, losses in the club’s food and beverage business have persisted. A mere 8 percent of members accounted for 50 percent of a la carte dining revenue last year, suggesting the dining room is underused.
In February, the club hired Julia Heyer, a restaurant consultant whose firm has worked on projects at Grand Central Terminal and for Brooklyn Brewery. Mr. Holland said she proposed that club dining be moved to Harvard Hall and that two kitchens be separated to improve efficiency. At the same time, the current dining room, which is more spacious than Harvard Hall, could be rented out for larger weddings and banquets, generating more revenue.
The changes didn’t seem too drastic to Mr. Holland. “It’s just moving the furniture,” he said. “It’s not an earthshaking change in how the rooms are used.”
Many members, though, had a different take. In early August, three former committee members of the club sent an email to the board of trustees. The men, Jonathan David, E. Theodore Lewis Jr. and Charles Lauster, laid out reasons the proposal to turn Harvard Hall into a dining room should be rejected.
They warned that the use of the main dining room for banquets and special events would “negatively effect the ambiance of the club” and “eliminate Harvard Hall as a place of quiet enjoyment for members and guests.”
“We are not opposed to making changes that could place the Club on a sounder financial foot,” they wrote. “But we view the current proposal as ill-considered, insufficiently researched and unnecessarily disruptive.”
Mr. Holland said the authors commented without knowing all the facts. (In an email, Mr. David said the three men declined to comment.) Herbert Pliessnig, the club’s general manager, said in an interview that the club planned to hold only an additional five to 10 events annually if the proposal were adopted.
The current dining hall could be rented out for more events if dining were moved to Harvard Hall. Credit: Ramsay de Give for The New York Times
Mr. Holland said of the men: “They really care about the club. How they go about it is their business, whatever they do.”
Their email was widely shared among members, particularly the club’s special interest groups, who frequently meet to discuss topics like American literature, politics or history.
Some were concerned that they would have limited access to quiet rooms if the Harvard Club rented out more space to outsiders. Others were displeased that lunch would no longer be served on the balcony of the main dining room, a favorite gathering spot, if that room were turned into an event space. Mr. Holland said he has received hundreds of emails, mostly in opposition.
One of those letters was from Seth Herbert, a former vice president and senior international counsel at Estée Lauder who has been a club member for 25 years. He said in an interview that he had left the Yale Club (he has degrees from both schools) because it no longer felt like “home” and that he worried the same would happen to the Harvard Club. “I’m very ambivalent about the proposal,” he said. “It is a major decision that affects the culture of the club.”
Mr. Holland said there would be no decision on Harvard Hall without a vote of the members. He and his team have held three meetings to present the plan. At the first one, on Sept. 7, they laid out two options: members could choose to make Harvard Hall a dining room or they could not. If they opposed the change, annual dues could increase by as much as 10 percent, according to the presentation.
The Sept. 12 meeting, judging by the recording, was particularly tense. Among other accusations, one man told Mr. Holland that an email sent to members with the headline, “Enhancing Your Member Experience,” mischaracterized the seriousness of the proposed change. Most people didn’t read past the first sentence, the man said.
By the third meeting, on Sept. 18, “it was more mixed, but still emotional,” Mr. Holland said. “A couple of times I had to explain that we are volunteers and we are trying to do good.”