Monday, March 9, 2020

Goodbye to the Standard Club, and all that

View from the terrace of the Cliff Dwellers Club. 
     Ho, for the club life! The green leather wing chairs, the well-stocked bars, the well-heeled members, all those Buckys and Binkys and Bills. In another life, I might have been quite clubbable, in my bowtie and fez.
     But alas, in this life I lack certain necessities: connections, for starters, and wealth, or an employer willing to pony up steep membership fees. I am indeed a proud member of one club, Cliff Dwellers, but as a charity case, as will be explained if you somehow make it to the end of this column.
     But first I can’t let The Standard Club vanish — the 150-year-old institution is closing May 1 — without eulogizing it and that whole private club world teetering on the brink of extinction.
     The Standard Club was the Jewish club, formed in 1869 by Jews blackballed from Chicago’s gentile clubs. To prove that Jews could be as snobbish as anybody, it performed the neat trick of being the rare Jewish organization that discriminated against Jews. Founded by German Jews, so proud of that apex of refinement and civilization, Germany, The Standard Club initially barred their embarrassing, unwashed Eastern Europe brethren. Snickering fate would eventually punish them for that.
     To me, clubs mean lunches — dining at The Standard Club with federal judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, with Jeff Zaslow. I believe I’ve eaten in every club in the city, including the ultra-exclusive Casino club, twice. A lapse on somebody’s part, I’m sure. The Casino sits on what was to be the footprint of the John Hancock Building. But when developers tried to buy the land, Casino president Mrs. John Winterbotham gave them the frosty rebuff such impertinence deserves.

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  1. To quote Groucho Marx, "I don't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member!"

    But then when his third wife wanted to join a restricted club & wasn't allowed to, he said "Can my daughter at least go into the water up to her knees, she's only half-Jewish"

    1. Clark St. beat everyone to the Groucho quote. I live a block away from a private golf course and I always think, "They would never have me as a member, I must be in the right place".

    2. I remember an article years ago in the Trib, on the then forever mayor of Lincolnwood, Henry Proesel. He lived across the street from the Bryn Mawr Country Club & said he played golf, but he wasn't allowed to play there because Bryn Mawr was & still is a very Jewish club. Thankfully, that fool wasn't mayor long after that, as obviously, the club would've allowed the mayor to play that silly waste of time there.

  2. Thanks Neil. Once again i am allowed to vicariously visit places and meet members of tribes that are literally and figuratively miles away from my little corner of existence.

  3. I've been told by Jewish friends that, at least until the late 1930's, German Jews felt themselves a cut above their eastern co-religionists, although how much that translated into active discriminations is another question. In "A Child of the Century," Ben Hecht says that he found little anti-Semitism in Germany when he served as a correspondent there directly after WW 1, but an influx of Polish and Russian Jews fleeing from persecution was considered problematical by Berliners of all faiths.


  4. Sometimes in opening the paper to Neil's column, I mutter, "Why the hell is he writing about that crap?" But I always end up fascinated by the delicious peeks he gives us into an unfamiliar and almost alien world and enchanted by his mellifluous descriptions of that world, whether it be high society or low or just down the street from me.


  5. The way I understood it, the gentile clubs barred the German Jews, so they started the Standard Club and barred the Jews from Eastern Europe, who in turn founded the Covenant Club.

    My father's parents emigrated from Poland and Russia, and had seven sons, several of whom were Covenant Club members. They fathered fourteen children, so I was able to attend a goodly number of my cousins' weddings and bar mitzvahs there. Quite a "swanky" place, from what I remember, but I was still too young to really care. To a hungry, still-growing kid, the food was all that mattered.

    My uncles were quite proud of their memberships, but my father didn't seem all that impressed. He let his older brothers buy him lunch at their club, but he resisted their efforts to get him to join. He did most of his work at his desk, but I'm sure that many of Chicago's Jewish movers, shakers, and wheeler-dealers conducted a good deal of their business there.


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