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Inside The Players, the 128-year-old private theater club in New York

At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1888, The players began its life, making it one of the oldest private clubs in New York City and the oldest club still housed in its original building. Edwin Booth, the club’s founder and one of the most famous actors in his life, purchased the historic townhouse on Gramercy Park in May of that year, with the intention of transforming the building into a place where the dramatic artists could mingle with their wealthier benefactors. Since its founding, the club has broadened its perspective to include both patrons and participants of all artistic forms, but its core base still leans towards the entertainment industry.

Billiard Room and Players’ Bar, located at 16 Gramercy Park. 1895. (Courtesy of the museum of the city of new york)

If Booth’s name is not immediately familiar to current generations, it’s only because his family has become infamous for the actions of his younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, who murdered President Lincoln. Edwin’s brother’s unfortunate legacy is not swept under the rug at the club; a portrait of John Wilkes hangs in Edwin’s suite, which would have been in situ since the day of his death, except for the addition of the portrait (Edwin did not allow his brother’s name to be mentioned during his lifetime ). The letter Edwin wrote to the public berating his brother’s actions and apologizing is also on display.

But the crown jewels of this majestic edifice far eclipse the notoriety of an unbalanced brother. The club is said to house the largest private collection of theatrical artifacts, from costumes to stage weapons, in addition to portraits of famous members, including that of Joseph Jefferson, the second president of The Players, painted by John Singer Sargent, the famous portrait painter. American.

Between the historic decor and heirlooms, there are glimpses of modern club life, such as Balderdash board game cards hidden in the Delft fireplace in the club’s card room, which serves as a dining space. rehearsal and casual gathering space, depending on the day. The dining room, which was added to the building in 1963, hosts live musical and theatrical performances, as well as a gathering space for club nights and hangout nights for prospective members.

Recently, they transformed Kinstler Hall into Edwin’s, a Friday night dinner club reserved for members and their guests. There, they offer a prix fixe menu and separate wine list, in addition to outdoor seating unique to the area. The Players Balcony is the only place you can eat and drink outside with a view of Gramercy Park, another perk enjoyed by members, who all get keys to stroll through the private greenery.

Like many of the city’s private enclaves, The Players has historically been a place for more established residents (Jimmy Fallon hosts his annual Christmas party there, for example), with an initiation fee of $ 1,500 and annual dues starting. to $ 2,000. But as the club nears its 130th anniversary, it seeks to usher in a new generation of members. A new associate membership program has been launched, where participants have access to the club every day until 5 p.m. for an entry fee of $ 150 and an annual membership fee of $ 600. With this, one can work or relax at the club’s famous Grill and sip a Gibson cocktail, which is said to originate from the club.

For more information on club membership, send an email to the club.

The Player’s Club with Connelly, bartender. 1935. (Courtesy of the museum of the city of new york)

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