It was quite a blow to Philly’s upper crust when, in 2003, the Platinum Club of America ranked the country’s best private clubs, and the Union League didn’t crack the top 50. (That the Penn Club of New York beat them? Salt in the wound.) But after a 10-year, $25 million renovation, the 147-year-old club boasts a state-of-the-art gym, updated guest rooms, a parking garage and—most recently—a Number Five spot on the list. Now they’re gunning hard for Numero Uno. Who cares, U.L. brass say, that they don’t have tennis or squash or other such club staples? Their ace in the hole is chef Martin Hamann (above). The 25-year veteran of the venerable Four Seasons was lured away a year ago by the chance to reinvent the city institution. “People haven’t ever put private dining in high regard,” he says. “I want the Union League to be known as a culinary place.”
Enter his new restaurant, 1862 by Martin Hamann: Out with stodgy furniture and gray roast beef; in with a glass-enclosed kitchen and foie gras with quince blini. “I’m not here to scare the members,” Hamann says, just to make food that can hold its own in Philly’s increasingly sophisticated food scene. So far, it’s a hit—-especially among the under-40 crowd, 700 members strong. “It’s exciting. These are the people who go to Starr restaurants,” says Hamann. But before you try to book a table, you’ll have to look into a membership: 1862 remains part of a private club. “It’s all about the members. If they want snapper soup, they can have it.” Penn Club, you’ve been served.