The Fascinating History of Food at Private Clubs
The world of private clubs has long been associated with drinks and food, even though, historically speaking, the dining aspect of membership has never been at the forefront.
In the United States, the earliest city clubs providing members year-round drinking, dining, and recreation facilities were the Philadelphia Club and New York's Union Club, both dating from the 1830s. They took inspiration from London, where clubs originated as 17th-century coffee houses for men to dine, exchange news, and converse.
The Silversmith Rum Cocktail, a
specialty of the Century Association in New York
The Brits began serving up “signature dishes” in the mid-19th century, such as "Mutton Cutlets à la Reform," or "Boodle's Cake,” a kind of orange-flavored trifle; the Oriental Club and the East India Club were famed for their curries.
The world of private clubs has long been associated with drinks and food, even though, historically speaking, the dining aspect has never been at the forefront.
The Philadelphia Club features Veal and Ham Pie whose ancestor may be the "Travellers Pie," once a famous dish at London's Travellers Club that features bacon and pork as well as veal and ham.
These beloved dishes are rather plain and not devised to show off wealth or elite taste. And while many places do serve more ostentatious menu items, such as terrapin or game in the past, steak or lobster in the present, the
Terrapin Stew was served at the Union Club in New York.
Women's clubs, like the Colony or Cosmopolitan in New York or the Centennial Club in Nashville, cherish their own
Ultimately, club food is intended to be consistent and reassuring (like having a regular table or a waiter who knows your habitual cocktail) and these signature dishes manage to do just that.
Paul Freedman is a Yale professor who
The State in Schuylkill, Andalusia, PA
Fish House Punch
The members of the Company (as it is commonly known) cook and eat dinner together in the fishing season, although for over a century the fish haven't come from local waters. This is where the celebrated Fish House Punch was first elaborated, and to this day, on the banks of the Delaware rather than the Schuylkill, the cocktail—made with sugar, black tea, lemons, rum, cognac, and brandy—is mixed in a nine-gallon Chinese export bowl that was presented by a sea captain on May 1, 1812.
A club member mixes a bowl of Philadelphia Fish Bowl punch.
Casino Club, Chicago
Candied Bacon Hors d’Oeuvres
Harvard Club of New York
Centennial Club, Nashville
Fried Asparagus Roll-Ups
Asparagus roll-ups at the Centennial Club
The “rolled asparagus sandwich” was created by Sadie LeSueur, the hostess and executive secretary of the Centennial Club. It calls for white asparagus tips (which presumably came from a can, since fresh white asparagus is a relatively recent introduction in the US) served on toasted bread.
Veal and Ham Pie
V&H Pie at the Philadelphia Club
Veal and Ham Pie (served hot or cold) is still a common dish in Britain, and there are many online recipes for it from chefs like Jamie Oliver. It was served at the Astor Hotel in 1917 and the Pierre in 1933. The Philadelphia Club tradition is an example of both Anglophilia and historic preservation.
Pacific Union Club, San Francisco
Crab Legs à la PUC
The crab cocktail seems ordinary, if delightful, but it is made using whole crab thighs, a special “cut” as it were not generally available.
Mory’s, New Haven
Baker Soup; Welsh Rarebit
Mory’s began in the mid-nineteenth century as a Yale student singing and drinking club. The rarebits (or rabbit) were an appropriately Anglophile snack to accompany beer and punch. Baker Soup has a tomato base and a curry
Century Association, New York
Silversmith Cocktail; Macaroons
Macaroons, like these at the Century Club Association in New York, are a staple.
The Silversmith is a rum cocktail served with crushed ice in a silver julep cup that has the name of a deceased member inscribed on it; a slightly disconcerting way to recall absent friends. The macaroons are made especially for the Association and are soft and flavorful. Here they are served with candy-corn in
Cosmopolitan Club, New York
Macaroons; Dessert Soufflés
A women’s club whose house-made macaroons are a bit chewier than those made for the Century Association.
Knickerbocker Club, New York
Sole Knickerbocker; Knick Glory (a layered sundae with ice cream, whipped cream, and raspberries)
Beach Club, Narragansett
Belle Meade Country Club, Nashville
Faucon Salad; Frozen Tomato Salad; Door Knob Filet
The Belle Meade's Club Frozen Tomato Salad
Chilled tomato dishes go back at least to the late-19th century when “tomatoes à la Jules César” appeared on the menu at Antoine’s in New Orleans (named after Jules Alciatore, the son of the restaurant's founder). At Antoine’s, the tomatoes were chilled, scooped out, stuffed with crabmeat ravigote, and served in a vinaigrette. The Belle Meade’s preparation is closer to a combination of aspic and granita. The club also serves it’s signature Faucon Salad (iceberg lettuce, bacon, hard-boiled egg, and blue cheese dressing) and a Door Knob Filet (filet mignon the size of a door knob).
Lotos Club, New York
Corned Beef Hash
New York's Lotos Club offers this corned beef and hash.
This is an example (along with Calf’s Liver, also featured at the Lotos) of a once-common entrée now hard to find, which flourishes in an appropriately timeless environment. Here the hash is served on an English muffin, topped with poached eggs.
Union Club, New York
The Union Club serves this classic rice pudding.
In the late-19th century, the Union Club offered a number of
Maidstone Club, East Hampton
Bath and Tennis Club, Palm Beach
Southside cocktail; Gold Plate Special
The cocktail is made with vodka or rum, sour mix, mint and a spritz of club soda, served on crushed ice; the Special involves the choice of three items from a cold buffet that usually includes: shrimp, crab, or lobster salad; avocado stuffed with crab; celery remoulade; chilled asparagus; and tomato aspic with mustard.
Palm Beach Country Club
Chinese Stir-Fry Buffet (Sundays); Chocolate Babka
University Club, Milwaukee
Friday Fish Fry
Pebble Beach Resorts, Pebble Beach, California
Del Monte Artichoke Soup
This artichoke, cream and potato soup pays homage to the pre-eminence of Monterey County for US artichoke production. Dates from the 1940s and perhaps decades earlier.
Onwentsia Club, Lake Forest, Illinois
Onwentsia Cornflake Ring
Dating from the early 1950s and taken from the back of a Corn Flakes box, the cereal is mixed with pecans, brown sugar and butter and then put in a Bundt
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountry.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.