Two memorable events in Boston history occurred the evening of Nov. 8, 1888. The Algonquin Club, the private social club on Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay, had a gilded dedication party with 2,000 of the city’s boldest names and wealthiest denizens arriving in a traffic jam of horse-drawn carriages.
The other memorable event that evening took place 2 miles away as the writers and editors of the Boston Daily Globe apparently leafed through every thesaurus and dictionary in the city seeking complimentary, superlative, and grandiloquent words to shovel into a breathlessly adoring story about the club’s opening.
“He who attended the reception last evening need not be told that the occasion was one surpassing any similar event which has ever taken place in the city, and rivaling in splendor anything in the clubhouse history of New York,” the paper reported before going into exhaustive detail about the importance of the club’s members.
But the Algonquin, the place the Globe claimed was “undoubtedly one of the finest clubhouses in America” in 1888, lost its luster as time passed. It took 98 years until the club allowed women to join, and few rushed to become members at the time. As the cachet of the club diminished, the grand building that houses it, designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the same architects behind the Boston Public Library, had also fallen into decline. The silver spoon was tarnished.
Enter Sandra and Paul Edgerley. The Boston power couple, who purchased the Algonquin Club building more than two years ago, have not only given the historic structure a multimillion-dollar makeover, they’re also attempting to completely upend the model of a private social club in Boston. Beginning with changing the name to the ‘Quin House, the Edgerleys are looking to create a new kind of social club where a coterie of civic leaders, heads of business, artists, presidents of nonprofits, and an inevitable social climber or two can gather.
“Who knows what will happen when a finance person meets an artist, and the artist meets an engineer, and the engineer meets the nonprofit leader,” said Sandra Edgerley, who has passionately championed the idea of a diverse private social club for years. “I think that’s one of our taglines — it’s a place where memorable encounters can lead to meaningful connections.”
The club, she said, is not just about wine tastings, dinners, dancing, erudite talks, and cocktails, although all of those activities will occur. She’s optimistic that philanthropic relationships will be formed. She and her husband are also adamant that the club’s membership will be a diverse mix of ages, genders, races, and incomes. She said a quarter of the club’s members will be under 35.
In order to do that, fees are on a tiered scale. Annual membership dues begin at $500 a year for those in the nonprofit world. For most everyone else, the annual fees are akin to those of a high-end gym. For younger members, that’s $2,000 a year. As you get older, the annual membership dues are higher, with the idea that the mature, more established club members are essentially subsidizing those in the early stages of their careers.
“I think it’s about gathering,” Sandra Edgerley said. “Even before we had the building, I think our intent was to have this great community. A space where this community of amazing people in Boston, who are diverse in all ways, can come together to have a meal, have a drink, and just meet each other.”
The ‘Quin officially opened Wednesday. While the outside of the building remains relatively unchanged, the post-renovation interior of the 56,000-square-foot structure is now a gleaming, highly Instagrammable, Architectural Digest-worthy stunner. We’ll stop with the design-related compliments here before this story turns into a repeat of the 1888 Boston Daily Globe-Algonquin Club lovefest.
With the exception of the grand staircase and the reading room, Sandra Edgerley said, the building has been “reimagined rather than remodeled.” The reimagining, courtesy of celebrity designer and private club owner Ken Fulk, is nothing short of wondrous. Think of a high-end hotel with a museum-worthy art collection, four restaurants, eight bars, a 2,200-pound chandelier adorned with 2,500 crystals, a speakeasy, a secret room for listening to records, and a gym. There are also eight hotel rooms for members on the top level.
“I think we have 450 pieces of art through the building,” she said, as she and her husband sat in a part of the ‘Quin called the living room, which is music-themed. “It’s quality. It’s just this excellence throughout, but not too fancy, not too precious, but excellent and beautiful.”
As you have likely guessed, quality, excellence, and beauty do not come cheap. Before we get to the hard numbers, here’s some background on the ‘Quin’s founders. Paul Edgerley, formerly a managing director at Bain Capital, is also part of a group of private partners that owns the Celtics. Sandra Edgerley is owner of the luxury real estate company Hexagon Properties. Both have spent years working on the boards of Boston nonprofits. They often say that even though they’re not from Boston, they feel like the city is their adopted home where they raise their four children.
Although they don’t like to talk numbers — when asked if she’d like to discuss the cost of the renovation, Sandra Edgerley responded with a firm “no” — there are numbers on the public record. Hexagon Properties bought the Algonquin Club at the end of 2018 for $17.5 million. (At the time the Globe was reporting a purchase price of $25 million.) Hexagon Properties secured a mortgage for just over $30 million the same year for the ‘Quin. Before the purchase was completed, she said she was planning to make an “eight figure” investment in restoration.
“The reason why I don’t want to talk about the money is that it’s not about the money, it’s about the passion,” she said. “We don’t want [money] to define this. We are so excited to be creating this. I think it’s going to be really good for the city.”
Those fortunate enough to both be chosen to join and be able to afford the initiation and membership fees will have the opportunity to dine in a Japanese steakhouse, dance in an Art Deco-themed club (where you can push a button at your table to request champagne), linger in a European-style cafe, hang out on the roof deck, take a yoga class, admire original Andy Warhol art, or swing by the pub for a beer. Menus are created by Jean-Paul Lourdes, an internationally acclaimed chef who has helmed kitchens in France, London, Japan, and New York. There are a total of six chefs for the club’s four restaurants. Of the eight bars, one is cheekily named the Dive Bar. It’s named as such because the art depicts people diving.
The idea of a social club that requires an initiation fee, dues, and an approval process may sound arduous and unappealing to some, but across the country, private social clubs are having a moment. Perhaps the best known of this new breed is Soho House. After its London location became wildly popular in the 1990s, founder Nick Jones began expanding and now operates more than 27 social clubs worldwide, with seven more locations slated to open over the next two years.
One of the newest, and hottest, of the private social clubs is Zero Bond in New York. Founding members include Tom Brady, Liev Schreiber, and Kim and Kourtney Kardashian.
“I think these places are growing in number because people just want to connect,” said Fulk, the designer behind the ‘Quin’s new look and the founder of his own private social club, St. Joseph’s Arts Society in San Francisco. “We’ll see that even more as people come out of the pandemic. In the past, I think clubs were more about excluding people. It was about commonality. What’s happening now is about creating communities.”
Beyond the post-COVID need for socialization, experts say that even with expanding social media platforms, we still need face-to-face contact.
“Social interaction, and, in particular, face-to-face interactions do a lot to help both our mental and physical health and well-being,” said Natalie Pennington, a professor of communication studies at the University of Nevada who recently authored a study on the topic. “There is some prepandemic work suggesting some types of technology could help, but I think what the pandemic showed us is technology can supplement, but not replace, face-to-face interactions.”
Social clubs also offer another thing that people crave: bragging rights.
“Humans have what I sometimes call a ‘snowflake in a blizzard’ problem,” said author and behavioral psychologist Matt Wallaert. “We are powerfully driven to feel unique and special, but always want to be part of a connected group. Private social clubs nicely split that difference: They give us a tribe, but if they’re kept deliberately small, we can still be one of a kind inside that environment.”
If you’re mulling the idea of becoming a member of the ‘Quin, don’t take out your checkbook quite yet. There’s already a waiting list of prospective members (the Edgerleys declined to disclose the length of the list), and joining the ‘Quin is a bit more challenging than joining Planet Fitness.
Up to this point, most members have been recruited or sent invites to join. A nomination by an existing member is the established path to apply for membership. Once you’ve been recommended to join, you’ll receive an online application form. You’ll then have a Zoom interview with a club ambassador.
“One of the questions we ask is, ‘What impact are you having in your field, your community, or in the world?’ ” Sandra Edgerley said. “I think everybody in some way or another desires to make a difference or wants to make a difference.”
If you pass the test, membership fees are on a tiered system. If you’re under 35, the initiation fee is $1,250 with a yearly membership fee of $2,000. Those who are 35-49 pay a $2,500 initiation fee and a yearly membership fee of $3,000, and members who are 50 and over pay an initiation fee of $4,000 and a yearly membership fee of $4,000.
There are lower rates for individuals who make under $150,000 a year and are involved in the arts, civic, and nonprofit world. Their all-ages initiation fee is $250, with an annual membership fee of $500. The catch is that the ‘Quin requests that they “share their unique talents and expertise at club events including panels, speaking engagements, and mentoring as opportunities arise.”
Although the ‘Quin is a for-profit enterprise, the Edgerleys are hoping that philanthropy is a cornerstone of the club. To that end, they started the Quin Impact Fund, which has already donated $500,000 throughout the pandemic to help 10 organizations such as Camp Harbor View, Greater Boston Food Bank, Asian Community Fund at the Boston Foundation, and the Boston Resiliency Fund. They also are hoping to create volunteer opportunities for members.
But, let’s not forget what the ‘Quin is about, and it’s that posh building on Commonwealth Ave. where elbows will be rubbed between leaders, innovators, creators, and rising stars. In the beautiful space with private meeting rooms, bars, a very Parisian atrium, and an event space where a member could have a small wedding. The idea is that it’s an all-day hangout. It’s a third space to fill the gap between the office and home, which also happens to have a cocktail cart that will come to your table in the reading room, which has gold-leaf wallpaper.
“I get that some people won’t be excited by this, it’s not their thing,” said Paul Edgerley. “That’s fair. But you know, I think there’s a real role for a modern-day private social club to play in this city. We really think we’ve found something that’s good for Boston, and we’re excited to see what happens.”
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.