Pros: Magnificent Edwardian town house in an unbeatable location
Cons: Private, only 14 guest rooms-so it's very hard to get a room
The Lotos Club is one of New York's more interesting and handsome private clubs. Although it is not open to the public, they do take guests with an introductory letter from reciprocal clubs.
A Brief History
The Lotos Club was founded in 1870 as a literary club, and counted Mark Twain among its early members. He called it "The Ace of Clubs." The name was selected to convey "rest and harmony", coming as it did from Tennyson's poem, The Lotos Eaters. over the years, the Club had several homes, finally coming to rest at 110 West 57th Street in 1909. When that location became too valuable to keep, due to real estate markets, the Club moved to its present home at 5 East 66th Street, just off Central Park, in 1947.
A Personal Note
I had wanted to see this club for some time, having heard about it for years, as the previous clubhouse was where my paternal great grandfather, Edward Webster Wilson, died in 1926, and not under the most fortunate circumstances. This was always whispered about in my family.....
On a more pleasant note, my maternal grandfather, Col. R.F.C. Vance, was a member here at one time in the 1950's, before retiring to Virginia and giving up clubs except to continue to pay the bills for them and complain that he never used them anymore. At times, he would renounce as many as five or six club memberships, only to join again at a later time.
Built in 1900, the French Renaissance style town house was built by Richard Howland Hunt for Mrs. Elliott Shepard, daughter of Wm. Vanderbilt, as a gift for her daughter, Mrs. Wm. J. Schieffelin. The red brick, five storied town house is three bays wide with elaborate stone and wrought iron detailing.
The Reception Hall
One registers at a small window in the white marble hall. The furniture hare is eclectic and unusual. Most of the pieces will catch your eye in some way. I registered quickly and went off to explore the public rooms.
As there are only 14 rooms, they tend to go rather quickly. Booking well over a year in advance is not unheard of here. The first time I stayed here, we were given what was likely the room of a butler or perhaps one of the children. On the fifth floor, it did have two small windows facing the street, and a fireplace as well (non-working). There were twin beds and a reasonably large sitting area as well as a small writing desk. All in all, it was pleasantly furnished but was obviously subordinate to the rooms on the fourth floor.
If you can possibly get one of these, beg borrow and steal to do it. We were given room #2, when I visited with my brother last summer. This room also faces the street, but it has a 16 foot ceiling with a (too heavy, but still very handsome) frieze of garlands and swags going round the room. A very substantial fireplace with an elaborately carved mantelpiece dominating the room. There were two double beds, again covered in a floral pattern. A sitting area and desk were in the part of the room facing the street. Although this room was splendid, these rooms are not really the point of the Club. Bear in mind also that the club's members will have first priority when booking a room, so you may be lucky to get anything. Some of the rooms facing the back, or on the side, are quite small.
Clean and functional, the baths are attractive, but are not the temples of luxury one might expect at a hotel. In some rooms, the old Victorian tile baths have been restored, in others, it has been replaced entirely. Whatever the bath, it will be functional, and might have some interesting fixtures. The soaps and so forth are nice, but not excessive.
The Grill is their basement dining room. Dark and intimate, the room is most notable for the paintings by former members of the club. There are many works by James Montgomery Flagg, including some of the famous I Want You Uncle Sam paintings. More provocative must have been the many reclining nudes he painted that still hang there today. While modest by today's standards, these surely must have raised an eyebrow or two at the time. Other works by Harrison Fisher and Howard Chandler Christy are on the walls.
As for the menu, the food and service are both excellent. I have not had a poor meal here, and their standards would hold up admirably against many a New York table. Their wine list is extensive, as befits a club of this stature.
There is a bar in connection with the Grill. They usually close before 12:00, or even at 11:00, so go early if you're going.
The breakfast room is on the main floor and faces the rear as well. A light buffet is usually put out each morning, but you may be able to stir someone in the kitchen to prepare something special for you. Another grand room, this has a very elaborate marble mantelpiece and tall frosted and stained glass windows.
The second floor library has another magnificent carved marble fireplace and the room is filled with many interesting volumes. Sliding ladders are found here and there on the shelves in the event that you want to climb up to find something. A quiet retreat, the library is truly handsome and special.
Other Public Rooms
The ballroom is on the second floor. Many lively parties have taken place there. The sitting room just off the lobby has a nearly life sized portrait of a certain writer who is known for wearing all white costumes. It would start a bonfire if I were to mention the name of a living club member.
The Lotos CLub remains a lively place today, hardly at all what I had expected to find. On most nights, there are many different parties going on.
As one would expect to find here, the service is deferential and polite at all times. Many of the Club's retainers have been here for years and years. Service may not be swift, but it is certainly assured.
I have no idea what they charge their own members to stay here, but the rooms on the fourth floor generally go for about $260.00 and those on the fifth floor go for about $225.00. Please bear in mind that you must arrange to stay here through a reciprocal club.
Please note that this appears under the general category for New York as there is no appropriate category for private clubs.