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Join the club

An look inside Chicago's swanky, members-only social scene

  • The view from the University Club of Chicago
The view from the University Club of Chicago
July 08, 2012|By Tracy Swartz, RedEye

Forget the velvet rope—and you're not going to see a bouncer at some of Chicago's most exclusive clubs.

Take the Metropolitan Club in Willis Tower, for example. The club, which bills itself as the "most inclusive place for Chicago leaders to gather" and boasts wine tastings and celebrity chef dinners (a sapphire necklace was given away as a prize at a recent dinner), is invitation-only. You can't get in without a recommendation from another member.

Consider the process at University Club of Chicago more rigorous. The Loop club, which has a dress code, requires three letters of recommendation from existing members and a four-year college degree. Potential members then have their candidacy posted in the lobby for two weeks so other members can examine it.

This clique of elite clubs—which lure members with their pools, private dining rooms and networking events—will have to make room for some new (blue)blood. The Soho House, a Manhattan-based private club popularized on "Sex and the City," announced in May it will open an outpost in the West Loop in spring 2014.

The Chicago club, which is set to have a rooftop bar, pool and salon for blowouts, is the only U.S. location announced in an expansion that includes Barcelona, Istanbul, Mumbai and Toronto. Its entre into Chicago shows that despite the economic downturn, there's still a market for prestigious places for Chicago's 1 percent to eat, work and play.

"I think Chicago is a large city and can handle anything," said Nathan Aydelott, spokesman for the East Bank Club, a West Loop fitness center that has boasted President Obama and Oprah Winfrey as members.

But many Chicagoans may not be willing to fork over the price of admission at the East Bank Club and other chichi spots. The East Bank Club, which features tennis courts, a car wash and on-site dry cleaning, charges a $500 initiation fee and monthly dues of $175.

The Metropolitan Club doesn't publish its price list but said membership for its young executives group for Chicagoans under 35 starts at $105 per month. The club's youngest member is 19, membership director Jamie Campos said.

"Our membership is extremely diverse," Campos said. "Different people join the club for different reasons. A good portion of our members join to use it as an office away from the office."

For some, an all-access pass to these clubs is worth the cost.

When Alex Nelson, 28, moved to River North two years ago from D.C., he needed a place to work out. He said he got more than that when he joined the East Bank Club.

Though Nelson was leery of the cost, the longtime runner was intrigued by the club's quarter-mile indoor track. Since joining, he's even had a brush with celebrity—he said Oprah did sit-ups next to him last year.

But it isn't the potential to see the Queen of All Media that keeps Nelson coming back four to six times a week to work out and patronize the rooftop bar.

"The major selling points for me were the facilities themselves," said Nelson, a social media consultant. "I think it's worth it for me personally."

Be our guest as RedEye takes you behind the scenes at some of Chicago's swankiest clubs.

East Bank Club

Where you'll go: 500 N. Kingsbury St.

What you'll pay: $500 initiation fee and monthly dues of $175

What you'll do: Two indoor and two outdoor pools; tennis, squash and racquetball courts; 200 free fitness classes per week (pilates is one of the most popular); sundeck cafe and pool bar; spa and salon; dry cleaning and car wash

Who you'll see: Local politicians such as Mayor Emanuel, who swims there

Metropolitan Club

Where you'll go: 66th and 67th floor of the Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker Drive

What you'll pay: The club doesn't publish its price list and prefers potential members, who have to be recommended by another member, to call for cost information. Membership for its young executives group for Chicagoans under 35 starts at $105 per month.

What you'll do: Sixteen private rooms that may serve as workspaces or meeting sites; wine bar with a "distinguished selection of vintage wines;" space to host weddings and other events; a gluten-free menu at the restaurant; 20 free fitness classes a week. The club also is part of a society of clubs that allows members entry into other clubs when they travel.

Who you'll see: Executives and entrepreneurs; "movers and shakers," membership director Jamie Campos said.

University Club of Chicago

Where you'll go: 76 East Monroe St.

What you'll pay: A fee list is not published. Members are required to have three letters of recommendation from existing members and a four-year college degree. The club has a dress code that ranges from "business attire" (collared shirt a must) to "casual attire" (denim of any color) to "smart casual attire" (tailored Bermuda length shorts OK).

What you'll do: Bills itself as "one of the finest squash facilities in the country" with six international singles courts and one North American hardball doubles court; more than a dozen dining areas including a balcony overlooking Millennium Park; 60 sleeping rooms; a private library and art gallery.

Who you'll see: The academic elite

tswartz@tribune.com | @tracyswartz

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