The Racquet Club
215 South 16th Street; 215-735-1525
The Racquet Club has always been a younger, swaggering sibling among the city’s clubs. Life here is centered on courts for four different racket sports — squash, racquetball, and two archaic variants, known as court tennis and racquets, for which there are only a handful of facilities on earth — but the downstairs bar can get busy at night. About three-quarters of the club’s members are of the sporting type, but many are relatively inactive out-of-towners, some of whom keep their Racquet Club ties to exploit reciprocal arrangements with more than 200 other clubs worldwide. The club is eagerly looking to grow, and has introduced membership promotions (including a $200 temporary membership for three summer months). Desperation hasn’t made the Racquet Club any less picky. It’s a popularity contest, à la fraternity rush. There are no clear criteria, only whether the membership committee sees you as worthy.
Founded: 1889. Number of members: 1,150. Notable facilities: Swimming pool; new fitness center; all those racket-sports courts. Cost: $2,500 standard; $1,000 for junior members. Wait list: None; it’s aiming to grow to 1,500 members. Average member age: A little under 10 percent are under 30. Demographics: A little over 10 percent are women. Notable members: Comcast’s Brian Roberts; Episcopal bishop Charles Bennison; jeweler Craig Drake; attorney Shanin Specter. Food: Good snapper soup. Crustiness: Preppy, not crusty.
Aronimink Golf Club
3600 St. Davids Road, Newtown Square; 610-356-6055
It’s quite possible that Aronimink is the most exquisite golf course in the Philadelphia area. Famed course designer Donald Ross, known for his celebrated venues (a whopping 400 of them, including Pinehurst in North Carolina and Seminole in Florida), considered Aronimink his masterpiece. A deceptively difficult, in-your-face course, it has routinely been rated by Golf Digest as one of the nation’s top 100 courses and was home to the coveted PGA Senior Championship in 2003, which reportedly brought $30 million to the region. Yet life at the big-money, mostly-male haven hasn’t always been so sanguine. In the 1990s, the PGA tour approached Aronimink to host its prestigious championship, with one condition—the club would have to adopt more inclusive membership policies to appeal to the network’s mixed audience. Rather than concede, Aronimink turned the PGA down. (Since then, the club has admitted blacks, including former Sunoco exec Ken Hill.) What started as a private, Quaker-founded institution has morphed into an old-money-vs.-new-money club far different from what it used to be. Says one former employee, “It’s similar to Caddyshack—Rodney Dangerfield types mixed with the old-timers.”
Founded: 1896. Number of members: About 320. Notable facilities: Besides its renowned par-4 10th hole, Aronimink boasts outdoor tennis courts, skeet shooting, paddle tennis courts and swimming pools. Cost: Initiation $37,500; total annual dues (including assessment) $7,190; annual food minimum $800. Wait list: About 30 people, give or take a few; it’s an eight-to-nine-year wait. Average member age: 45. Demographics: White, Waspish, but at least it’s coed. Notable members: MAB Paints prez Tommy Bruder. Food: What you might expect — high-quality, fresh food of the filet mignon type. Crustiness: Years ago, just as crusty as Merion. Now, not so Lilly Pulitzer-like.
The Union League
140 South Broad Street; 215-563-6500
Long the seat for the city’s business elite, the Union League is undergoing a bit of a renaissance: Growing membership rolls (club fathers are looking to cap at 3,000) have occasioned a building boom. The club has launched a $24 million expansion project, due to be completed by the League’s 150th anniversary in 2012; plans include a new fitness center, squash courts, yoga facilities, and a museum-like display of the League’s Civil War memorabilia. Over the past two decades, the League has gotten over its issues with blacks, Jews, women and Democrats, and is looking more like the city’s law and business communities as a whole. “Patriotism” is the last refuge of the forcibly diversified club; membership committee insiders say they are looking for evidence of that and civic leadership. If you apply, brush up on what the flag means to you.
Founded: 1862. Number of members: 3,000. Notable facilities: Business center; 67 overnight rooms; library; fitness center, meeting rooms. Cost: Initiation fee $3,600; annual dues $2,500. Wait list: Coming soon. Average member age: 58. Notable members: City Controller Jonathan Saidel; perennial mayoral candidate Sam Katz; Drexel president Constantine Papadakis; Philly Fed president Anthony Santomero; Orchestra chairman Dick Smoot. Food: Tasty chicken potpie. Crustiness: Not much. Most days, it feels like a corporate conference center.
The Corinthian Yacht Club
P.O. Box 366, Essington; 610-521-4705
Members of the Corinthian Yacht Club do not boast about its food or famous members; the fact that two of its yachts were on a roster that defended the America’s Cup is a source of far greater pride. This club is for serious boaters only. Owners of sailboats and small powercraft come from across the region to take advantage of the Corinthian’s docking opportunities on a patch of Delaware riverside between the airport and Chester’s old industrial waterfront. The clubhouse — an 18th-century hotel — is filled with model ships and historical boating prints. The clubhouse is open nearly year-round for lunch and dinner, and regular evening events feature speakers on nautical themes. In the off months, many members take advantage of the wharf for trap-shooting over the water. The club is looking to grow; Commodore Charles Scott Seltzer Jr. (that’s his very official title) concedes a long tradition of “snobbery,” but says times have changed and that the club welcomes newcomers. Only two proposed members have been rejected in recent memory.
Founded: 1892. Number of members: About 400. Notable facilities: The 12-acre site includes an outdoor swimming pool. Wait list: None. Average member age: 50. Demographics: The club went coed in the 1980s, and now includes a handful of women. Notable members: Local helicopter moguls the Piasecki family. Food: Members like the crabcakes, available on a sandwich or as a platter. Crustiness: The club’s sporting nature gives it a laid-back feel.
Germantown Cricket Club
411 West Manheim Street; 215-438-9900
Say you’re a member here. You’re wearing your whites, a tennis court must. You’re all warmed up. You’re ready for a game … but you’ve got no one to play with. At Germantown Cricket, that’s no problem. Simply grab a seat on one of the club’s white wooden chairs, start rocking, and before you know it, you’ll be invited to a match by another partner-less member. The quirky tradition is a testament to the joviality of Germantown Cricket, one of the area’s oldest (primarily) tennis clubs. Separated from its urban environs by a tall brick wall, Germantown began as an exclusive club for rich white men, but is now among the area’s most diverse — it welcomed its first black member in 1979 — and among the most affordable.
Founded: 1854. Number of members: 760. Notable facilities: 45 tennis courts, including 24 outdoor grass courts sometimes used for cricket; 25-meter swimming pool; 7 squash courts; 4 bowling lanes. Cost: Initiation $2,000; annual dining minimum $720. Family full membership annual dues $3,100; individual full membership annual dues $2,440; under 35 full membership annual dues $800. Wait list: None. Demographics: The most diverse club in the area. Some suggest it’s about 35 percent Jewish. Notable members: Comcast honcho David L. Cohen; developer Jeffrey Orleans; Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz; chef Georges Perrier; Philadelphia editor Larry Platt. Food: Members praise the Sunday brunch buffet, with custom-made omelets. Crustiness: Comradely, not crusty.
The Acorn Club
1519 Locust Street; 215-735-2040
This is where the ladies who lunch take part in the activity that made them famous. One of the oldest women’s city clubs in the nation is an estimable female counterpart to the Philadelphia Club, matching the male bastion in fussy Waspiness and stuffy insularity. (Its name appears in print almost exclusively as a note in Main Line obituaries.) If you want to join, a time machine and the ability to pick a better batch of ancestors are definite pluses.
Founded: 1889. Number of members: 750. Notable members: Socialite Anne Hamilton belonged as recently as 2002. Food: The crème brûlée is recommended. Crustiness: Like blue blood crusting in the veins as rigor mortis sets in.
The Cosmopolitan Club of Philadelphia
1616 Latimer Street; 215-735-1057
The “Cos Club” draws professional, career-minded women for daily lunches—a thoroughly modern alternative to the Acorn. “We like to say we’re the ones on the cutting edge, and the Acorn ladies are running behind us,” one member says. Members also frequent the Art Deco building for an evening-program schedule: lectures, speaker series, book club. The guestbook carries the signatures of past speakers Thornton Wilder and George Gershwin, and recent events have ranged from a talk by newsman Bob Schieffer to a club member telling stories of her time in Siberia (literally). During the irrationally exuberant ’90s, members started the CosmoVestors, a Latimer Street version of the Beardstown Ladies.
Founded: 1928. Number of members: 500. Notable facilities: Dining room, library, lounge. Wait list: None. Average member age: Low 60s. Demographics: Half city dwellers, half suburbanites. Notable members: Bryn Mawr admissions dean Jennifer Rickard. Food: Chef Gary Sippel is famous for his seasoned dry toast, which members ask to take home with them. Crustiness: Some.
The Franklin Inn
205 South Camac Street; 215-732-0334
This writers’ club used to be rigid in its demand for literary credentials (no journalists allowed, for example), but these days, no C.V. is necessary. All you have to prove is that you contribute to the “literary, civic, artistic life of the city” and you’re welcome to the Camac Street clubhouse where novelist Owen Wister used to hang out. The club is open daily for lunch, at a common table with all-you-can-drink wine (an inadvertent benefit of the lack of liquor license), and hosts a few dinner and lunch speakers monthly, mostly members on their areas of expertise—from the architecture of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to bird-watching in South America. “There’s literary people in there, and civic people in there—and they listen to each other,” says a former president.
Founded: 1902. Number of members: 170. Notable facilities: Reading room; library of members’ works. Cost: Resident members pay $500 a year. Wait list: None. Demographics: Went coed decades ago; now about one-third female. Notable members: New Yorker cartoonist Arnold Roth; journalist Dan Rottenberg. Food: Very good veal Oscar. Crustiness: Preciously pedantic, not crusty.
Green Valley Country Club
201 West Ridge Pike, Lafayette Hill; 610-828-3000
Let’s be real: Belonging to a country club isn’t actually an inalienable right. And the folks at Green Valley know it. Applicants at this predominantly Jewish country club are asked to show that they give substantial amounts of money to charity each year. The club also hosts several annual fund-raisers, often for Jewish charities. “If you can afford to join a country club, you can afford to donate money,” says one member. Like Radnor, Green Valley has tried to attract more young families by expanding its kid-friendly events—hayrides, fall bonfire, summertime barbecues, a Hanukkah party. “You can almost go straight from the maternity ward to the club for lunch,” one member says.
Founded: 1919. Number of members: 450. Notable facilities: 18-hole golf course; 3 indoor and 4 outdoor tennis courts; swimming pool; fitness center. Cost: Over age 50 initiation fee $25,000; ages 30-50 $10,000-$17,500; ages 21-29 $5,000. Annual dues about $8,800. Children of members get free initiation. Wait list: None. Demographics: Mostly Main Line Jews. Food: Members rave about the “chopped salad” lunches — with buffet-style, chef-prepared gourmet salads—on Thursdays and Saturdays. Crustiness: Not much. More like a “Young Friends” event.
Huntingdon Valley Country Club
2295 Country Club Drive, Huntingdon Valley; 215-659-1584
Of all the private clubs in the area, Huntingdon Valley is one of the most friendly and welcoming — assets so uncommon to the country-club scene that Huntingdon Valley almost seems out of place in the mix. Quite possibly the most diverse local club — “Membership is open to anyone who wants to join,” says one member. And while other country clubs have a menu of memberships to choose from (golf, tennis, full, etc.), this Montgomery County club has one flat membership. That means equality is the name of the game; says Sabatino Tomeo, certified club manager at Huntingdon Valley, “We even have a first-come, first-serve policy with tee times.” Bruce Willis, in town shooting one of his M. Night flicks, enjoyed the course and members so much that he became a regular on the greens. Though not the most difficult course by any means, Huntingdon is often considered to have the most aesthetically pleasing grounds in the Delaware Valley; it’s set between two ridges and overlooks a bright green valley. (Golfweek ranked it 73rd among “America’s 100 Best Classical Courses” in 1999.) The only turn-off, depending on how you look at it, is the kids. It’s so ultra-family-friendly here that those in search of a quiet afternoon by the pool should opt for a pool in the backyard instead.
Founded: 1897. Number of members: 600-plus. Notable facilities: Three 9-hole golf courses; paddle tennis courts; outdoor pool; tennis/squash courts; fitness center; trap shooting. Wait list: Currently, none. Average member age: Late 50s. Demographics: White, black, purple, Christian, Jewish, you name it. Food: Though typically steak-and-lump-crabmeat, probably the best of any club. Crustiness: Of the J.Crew-wearing, Vera Bradley-toting type.
Merion Cricket Club
325 Montgomery Avenue, Haverford; 610-642-5800
Spend enough time at Merion Cricket, and you’ll expect Bertie Wooster to saunter by with a cocktail or wicket. Besides an active championship cricket team that co-hosts an annual international tournament, the club has a competitive croquet circuit and several indoor courts for squash — all Brit imports that hark back to the club’s early years. Since its split with Merion Golf in 1942, the “cricket” club’s main attraction is tennis, played on outdoor grass courts that cascade out from a Frank Furness-designed brick clubhouse, and on which members are required to wear only white, from socks to hats; anything else, and they’re politely ushered away. “It’s actually beautiful to see, the green courts with the white outfits,” says one member. “It feels so far away from the craziness of everything else.”
Founded: 1865. Number of members: More than 2,000. Notable facilities: 13 hard-surface tennis courts; 24 grass courts sometimes used by the cricket and croquet teams; 4 bowling lanes. Cost: Up to age 40, with family, initiation fee $8,750, annual dues $2,200, annual food minimum $460-$660. Over 40 with family, initiation fee $12,000, annual dues $2,800, annual food minimum around $600. Wait list: Two years. Average member age: Around 54. Demographics: Mostly Main Line Wasps. Notable members: Talk radio host Michael Smerconish; socialites Kipp and Becky Fawcett. Food: Members love the Cobb salad and crabcakes. Crustiness: Think English manor house.
Merion Golf Club
450 Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore; 610-642-5600
f it’s not broken, don’t fix it. That seems to be the attitude at Merion Golf — for better and worse. The club’s legendary East Course, site of more USPGA tournaments than any other in the nation, is still among the best in the world. (Golf Digest last year ranked it seventh nationwide.) It’s hosted some of golf’s most memorable moments, including Ben Hogan’s famous one-iron shot at the 1950 U.S. Open. It was one of the first clubs to allow single women to join, and still has one of the best women’s amateur teams in the area. But more than 100 years after its founding, it remains mostly a haven for rich white men. Women at the club follow an unwritten — but understood — restriction against teeing off on the East Course before 1 p.m. on Saturdays. And while the men have an expansive locker room, Merion recently cut the women’s changing area nearly in half — to make space for a new conference room. Meanwhile, the club has few minority members. “There’s a built-in, unspoken discrimination,” says one member. “And no one seems too keen on doing anything about it.” (The club’s general manager did not return phone calls.)
Founded: 1896. Notable facilities: Two 18-hole golf courses (East and West); a few paddle tennis courts. Cost: Annual dues around $6,000; annual food minimum around $600. Average member age: 45. Demographics: White, white, white, of the Wasp variety. Notable members: Amateur golf champion Nancy Porter and her husband, sculptor Robert Engman; former Penn president Sheldon Hackney. Food: Members joke that the patio restaurant is the “best first tee in golf” because it is, literally, steps away from the green, affording an unparalleled view. The nearby bar offers the “Pine Valley,” a specialty cocktail invented by a club bartender: vodka or gin, lemon juice, orange juice, sugar and mint. Crustiness: Like the icy surface of a distant planet—cold, brittle and unwelcoming.
The Philadelphia Club
1301 Walnut Street; 215-735-5924
The oldest and most guarded of the city’s old-guard clubs sits, with increasing incongruity, at the edge of the Gayborhood—but the Philadelphia Club makes no adjustments to passing fads. Unmarked outside but for a discreet awning logo, it is said to be one of the oldest men’s clubs in the U.S., feeding the city’s elite since 1834. Inside the three-story building, the Philadelphia Club is — except on occasional nights when members gather around the piano to sing — kept deathly quiet by members eating Old Philadelphia lunches of chicken salad and fried oysters. The blue bloods hang out to play an archaic domino game called sniff. This is the hardest club in town to join, limited largely to old Philadelphia families. Walter Annenberg applied for membership once and was blackballed—though he was eventually accepted. Was he turned down because he was Jewish? Because he made enemies? Who knows.
Founded: 1834. Number of members: 400. Notable facilities: Rooms for napping. Wait list: Unknown. Demographics: Pretty damn white, although it reportedly got into the token-Jew business in the 19th century. Notable members: Socialite Robert Montgomery Scott. Food: Members mention the ham-and-veal pie. Crustiness: As crusty as that ham-and-veal pie.
Philadelphia Country Club
1601 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne; 610-525-6000
Even though Philly Country Club characterizes itself as a “fun club, very friendly, with little if any snobbiness,” it doesn’t look that way from the outside. Point one: Philly CC doesn’t seem to want to host the PGA. According to one source, they feel they don’t need the exposure or the new members. Point two: The admission process is said to require the blessing of six members — a proposer, a seconder, and four letter-writers — not to mention a trip to your home, where, explains one source, even your spouse’s attire is taken into consideration. And finally, point three: The initiation fee is rumored to be a whopping $43,500, making it a safe bet there aren’t too many blue-collars in the crowd. While the bad appears to outweigh the good, the facilities and golf course are impressive. (No wonder the PGA covets the greens so much.) An Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool, nine tennis courts, two paddle courts, a bowling alley, squash, bridge, and even skeet shooting separate Philly Country Club from places like Merion, where golf is the major emphasis.
Founded: 1890. Notable facilities: After a thorough renovation, the clubhouse is a major selling point. Demographics: White, Waspy, mostly male. Notable members: Eagles coach Andy Reid; Phillies owner Bill Giles. Food: Nothing to rave about. Crustiness: Off the charts.
Philadelphia Cricket Club
415 West Willow Grove Avenue, Chestnut Hill, 215-247-6001;
6025 West Valley Green Road, Flourtown, 215-233-1110
Philadelphia Cricket Club is not so much about cricket — though it does have a competitive team that co-hosts an annual festival. It’s not even so much about tennis, like most area “cricket” clubs — though its Chestnut Hill facility does have several grass and hard courts, as well as squash and swimming. These days, Philly Cricket’s main appeal is golf—and high-powered golf at that, given the caliber of its members: Governor Ed and Judge Midge Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter, and, until recently, Comcast’s Brian Roberts. Now it’s even more so: A few years ago, Philly Cricket opened the second of two 18-hole courses in nearby Flourtown—in addition to the nine holes in Chestnut Hill—thereby eliminating what had been a two-year waiting list. But act now if you want to join: As of late last year, only a few slots remained open.
Founded: 1854. Number of members: 1,400. Notable facilities: Two 18-hole golf courses, one of which is nationally ranked; one 9-hole course in Chestnut Hill; a cricket field; 34 tennis courts of various surfaces; squash courts; croquet fields. Cost: Initiation fee $10,000 without golf, $36,000 with golf; annual dues $4,000 without golf, another $2,300 for golf; annual food minimum $780. Wait list: None. Demographics: Still a large contingent of Chestnut Hill Wasps, with some African-American and Jewish members now. Notable members: Besides those mentioned above, super-lawyer Arthur Makadon and Tasty Baking CEO Charlie Pizzi. Food: “Actually, it’s horrible,” says one member, citing few choices, little flavor, and inflexibility with off-menu requests. Crustiness: Like Chestnut Hill itself—blue-blooded and blue-haired, but with character.
2200 Belmont Avenue, Philadelphia; 215-473-0875
The thing about the Rabbit is this — it encapsulates everything exclusive, even more than Merion or Philadelphia country clubs, or really any boastful private club in the area. Named after the original clubhouse on Rabbit Lane in West Philadelphia, the Rabbit is a 50-or-so-person all-male private eating club. Now located in an 18th-century stone building on the grounds of Bala Golf Club, the Rabbit is so private that you more or less must inherit membership. But once you’re in, you could become privy to the Rabbit’s famous hot brewed punch recipe, which to this day remains a secret to the outside world.
Founded: 1866. Number of members: About 50. Notable facilities: Rabbit is confined to one building—not much more. Wait list: No such thing—you must be blood-related to a current member to get in. Average member age: Rumor has it this is an older crowd—around 70 and up. Demographics: Wealthy, Waspy, white-collar. Notable members: The Rabbit is so private, we don’t know of any. Food: We couldn’t even find out what they eat. Crustiness: They probably like to think they’re more rustic than crusty.
Radnor Valley Country Club
555 Sproul Road, Villanova, 610-688-9450; radnorvalleycc.com
Got kids? Radnor Valley wants them. In fact, Radnor Valley in the past few years has become the child-friendly Main Line country club, in an effort to attract young families and bring the median member age down from ancient. (It now hovers around the late 40s.) Kids are welcome most anywhere at the club—in the dining room, at junior tennis clinics and golf outings — and most of the events are family-centered, like the annual Halloween party, which last year drew 300 costumed kids. On Sunday nights, the club even provides free babysitting, so parents can enjoy a quiet evening out. The result? An assortment of (rich) young families is making the membership more diverse than its narrow beginnings — as a Jewish alternative to discriminatory Main Line clubs.
Founded: 1952. Number of members: 346 individuals and families. Notable facilities: 18-hole golf course; driving range; outdoor pool; 5 outdoor tennis courts; 3 indoor tennis courts. Cost: For full golf member over 35, with family, initiation fee $10,000; annual dues up to $7,995; annual food minimum $715-$1,200. Wait list: None. Average member age: 44. Demographics: Predominantly Jewish. Notable members: NBC 10 general manager Dennis Bianchi; sportscaster Al Meltzer; actor Will Smith (who plays golf several times a year). Food: The “exquisite” crabcakes are a favorite. Crustiness: Not much — more like the parking lot of an elite private school at pickup time.
State in Schuylkill
Along State Road in Bensalem
Consider State in Schuylkill, a.k.a. the Fish House, the brother to the Rabbit in West Philadelphia. But if you thought the Rabbit defined exclusive, you’ve never heard of the Fish House. Founded in 1732 by a group of Schuylkill River fishermen and prominent Philadelphians, this is the oldest social club in America. But the Fish House wasn’t always just a social and eating club—as the name implies, State in Schuylkill declared itself a sovereign and independent state in 1781, and governed itself as such. (Members, all male, still refer to themselves as citizens.) Today, the Fish House resides in Andalusia, Bucks County, next to the Biddle estate, on the Delaware River — the move was in part due to increased pollution in the Schuylkill. While fishing is no longer involved, dining is still very much a part of this highly secretive club. Members create meals using traditional Fish House recipes, and make toasts with their internationally famous Fish House Punch (so potent, it’s said to intoxicate you with one drink). It’s tough to get in here. As one source put it: “The only way to join the Fish House is to know a bunch of these guys very well over a period of 10 to 20 years. They’re certainly not looking for any new members.”
Founded: 1732. Number of members: 30 as of 1995. Wait list: Let’s just say there’s a wait list for the wait list. Average member age: Rumored to be upwards of 65. Demographics: White, Waspy, male. Nothing more. Food: It must be good. Crustiness: Penny loafers and argyle sweaters.
White Manor Country Club
831 Providence Road, Malvern, 610-647-1070; whitemanorcc.com
It used to be that lovely, bucolic “faraway” place. But with Chester County the new haven of the rich, White Manor has become the neighborhood country club for hundreds of potential new members. And the club has risen to the occasion. Forty years after its founding on a former dairy farm, White Manor in 2002 hired buzz-making architect Bobby Weed to do a $5.5 million golf course renovation, which Golf Inc. applauded as the “best private course renovation in the country.” In the meantime, many members left the once all-Jewish club, to be replaced with a more diverse membership of locals. “There’s been a concerted effort to draw people of different backgrounds,” says one member. “Now we have all kinds of people here.” Everything else has remained the same: still no tee times needed during the week, no restrictions on women, and no waiting list—at least for right now.
Founded: 1962. Number of members: 274. Notable facilities: 18-hole golf course; driving range; practice putting areas; Olympic-size pool, 6 tennis courts. Cost: Initiation fee $5,000-$10,000, plus $20,000 refundable bond. Annual dues about $8,600. Wait list: None. Demographics: About 60 percent Jewish; the rest is a diverse mix from western Main Line/Chester County. Notable members: And 1 CEO Seth Berger; Hahnemann CEO Michael Halter; Citizens Bank CFO Mark Thompson. Food: Specialty salads—like the Manor, with beets and blue cheese—are club favorites. Crustiness: Like a walk on a cool fall day—crisp and sharp, but still bearable.