The Core Club NYC
Departures goes inside New York’s Core Club and discovers an elite group of private members.
It’s the sleek high-rise exterior and the frosted glass doors and the too-cool-for-school art that hit you with the first shock of something new…and different and exciting. Next is the expensive clickety-clack traffic of its smart, au courant members—masters and mistresses of a bold new post-recession universe of Louboutin-heeled execs and hedge fund operators in croc loafers toting Gucci gym bags. Hey, and isn’t that Marianne Boesky, owner of the eponymous Chelsea gallery, sitting in the dining room under Flood, the immense canvas by her artist Barnaby Furnas? And wasn’t it in that very same dining room where, not too many nights ago, ex–Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold prepared dishes—like pressure-cooked carrot soup and goat milk ricotta with centrifuged peas—from his recently published six-volume, $625 book Modernist Cusine?
Toto, I don’t think we’re in the world of the traditional old boys club any longer.
From the beginning, the Core was meant to be a breed apart, a club with heart and soul—not to mention men and women, which can still be something of a rarity in the private New York club scene. But also one with the city’s toughest personal trainers, the best food in clubland (its first chef, Dan Kluger, was stolen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten to open his new, critically lauded ABC Kitchen) and a clientele that mixed Fortune 500 types with, say, members of The Paris Review’s Board of Trustees (the second-floor library was curated by the Review’s former publisher, Lea Carpenter). All this, along with mind-blowing contemporary art (no Gilbert Stuarts above a marble mantlepiece here) that could fetch a fortune at auction, an in-house hairstylist, a manicurist, a masseuse—and Dangene, L.A.’s hottest facialist who’s known by first name only (see “The Core Club NYC’s Antiaging Guru”).
This updated version of intimate luxury is the brainchild of Jennie Saunders, a svelte, stylishly dressed, high-energy blonde who is often caught working (on her BlackBerry, of course) at a table in the club’s restaurant, now helmed by Frenchman Bernard Liberatore. Back in 2000, with the first Internet boom at its height, Saunders’s idea was to create a members-only virtual community—an online version of TED and Davos, a kind of social network that was also part eBay and part cultural guide and curator for the very successful. Eventually, Saunders says, she planned to move all the services and people offline and into the real world. Then the tech bubble burst and September 11 happened. At this point, most people—most sensible people, anyway—would have backed down. Saunders, who grew up in New York’s Westchester County watching her father finance a dental degree by driving a garbage truck, thought, “Why not just do the craziest thing and turn the club into a real place?” She had the experience: She was part of the team that launched Reebok Sports Club, one of the first luxury gyms. But she needed funding. Scouring for potential investors, she ended up with a list of 13 industries and the people whom she believed had transformed them, or were about to do so, and set out to recruit them. “We constructed these boxes—handmade and gorgeous,” she says of the club’s fancy marketing packages. “[Inside was a book that] told our story about how we hoped to transform the idea of a club. I had a friend or a peer get it to each person so it’d be clear that it was something important.” The story, combined with Saunders’s unwavering intensity, was compelling enough to get 150 people, including superagent Ari Emanuel, billionaire financier Stephen Schwarzman and real estate tycoon Aby Rosen, to invest $100,000 each (and become founding members).
Rosen, one of the first to invest, provided more than money: He also gave Saunders the first six floors of a slick condominium tower he was then finishing. The results, he says, are better than he’d hoped for. “You can do anything at Core. It has art, design, business and living all in one place. It’s a club for the 21st century.” And in its six years, Saunders has attracted a who’s who of the media, technology and finance elite, not to mention movers and shakers from the worlds of art, architecture, fashion, sports and politics: architect Richard Meier, financier Nathaniel Rothschild and football star Dan Marino, along with Boesky and Myhrvold.
At breakfast and lunch, it’s clear what Rosen is talking about. Unlike nearly every other club in New York, tables are filled with people working on laptops and iPads, talking on their smartphones or video chatting via Skype. At the same time, the Core isn’t all business. “There’s a genuine warmth here,” says 1-800-Flowers founder Jim McCann. “When I come in, I’m completely relaxed.” The intimacy isn’t just PR boilerplate. Every staffer really does seem to know the names of all 1,400 members, as well as minutiae about their lives and those of their families. (Constantly updated electronic profiles detail everything from members’ favorite wines to their preference in Broadway shows.)
Most clubs supply a beautiful venue, along with an aura of tradition. The Core provides the former but subtly tweaks the latter. The materials could be found in a classic club interior (oak, mahogany, marble, leather), but here they’re utilized in unexpected ways. Oak undulates from one floor to the next along a staircase, and marble lines entire corridors, not just floors and mantles. It’s comfortable, almost residential. “Jennie insisted it be like a home,” says Jean-Gabriel Neukomm, from SPaN, the firm that designed it. “She wanted it to feel like the house you like best from your collection of houses.” In keeping with that, there’s a rotating collection of more than 50 artworks on loan from members, from Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits in the library to a Gregory Crewdson photograph in the lobby to a Kenny Scharf painting in the gym. It’s the Core’s ethos in physical form, a meeting of the traditional and the contemporary, comfortable and smart.