New York’s new private club craze is a cancer on the city
Some things in life should be experienced in private. Sex, for example. Colonoscopies. But eating in fancy restaurants and hanging out in beautiful spaces should not be private affairs. Sadly, New York is becoming a place where such pleasures are reserved for the privileged few.
The Big Apple historically is the most public of great cities. Except for a handful of clubs for alumni of Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League institutions, almost everything is open to those who can afford a night out — even if it means waiting at the velvet rope.
But suddenly, members-only places catering to global carpetbaggers are clogging the pages of Page Six. As a lifelong New Yorker, this offends me. No, it infuriates me. Pretentious, exclusionary establishments are exactly what our brave, embattled city does not need.
Public Offender No. 1 is Casa Cipriani, a mammoth, members-only hotel, restaurant and lounge atop the Battery Maritime Building downtown. Its numerous, Art Deco-inspired dining rooms, bars and terrace lounges are magnificent to behold, both indoors and out. Guests enjoy stupendous East River and skyline views. The Venetian-themed menu whips the arugula off those at lesser Ciprianis.
But it’s off-limits unless you’re a club member, or you pay upwards of $800 a night for one of 47 guest rooms. This, even though the property is owned by the city, which put up tens of millions in taxpayer funds to restore the old ferry terminal to support the new structure on top of it.
What a slap in the face of New Yorkers who were led to expect a normal, open-to-all hotel and party venue at the site.
“Casa,” which means “house” in Spanish and Italian, won’t be open to normal New Yorkers at Casa Cruz either.
Last week, two curious, fashionably-dressed young women who weren’t members were let into the invitingly-lit club on East 61st Street by a friendly doorman (who’s likely been fired since). Led to believe they were welcome, the women took seats at the bar upstairs — only to be icily booted because they didn’t belong.
Mayor Eric Adams’ favorite after-hours haunt is Zero Bond. An initiation fee of up to $4,000 plus annual dues up to $4,000 won’t guarantee entrance to “two floors of plush lounges, private dining rooms, omakase restaurant, screening room 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.”
Bloody ridiculous, if you ask me.
That’s not all. Nightlife mogul Robin Birley, whose face was once scarred by a tiger, wants to launch a glamorous members-only club at 828 Madison Ave., modeled on his impenetrable 5 Hertford Street in London. And Carbone, where it’s already impossible to snag a reservation, is planning to open a members-only Carbone at Hudson Yards along with a Japanese restaurant. Dubbed ZiZi’s Club, it will be an offshoot of the owners’ private club in Miami.
Meanwhile, don’t even think about checking out the new Aman hotel in the Crown Building on Fifth Avenue. Unlike at any other hotel in the city, Aman’s restaurant, jazz club, lounges and even the lobby are accessible only to room guests who pay $3,200-and-up a night or buy a $200,000 club membership. The hotel’s doormen are dressed like Secret Service agents and guard the velvet rope on East 57th Street like Fort Knox, chasing would-be explorers away with a sneer.
It’s easy to joke about the “private” metastasis. But it’s a cancer on New York City’s DNA. It exploits a deranged wistfulness for what New York City never had but titillates elitists: a class system. From the first Dutch settlements to today’s 200-language metropolis, we are about inclusion, not exclusion.
We measure success in our accomplishments, not in initiation fees and the whims of “membership committees.” If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere, and we don’t need private clubs to prove it.