25 November 2007

How's That Spelled Again?

The late 1800s seems to have been the time when American artistic types stood up for themselves and said, "We're tired of these Victorians wiping their boots on us! We are gentlemen as much as the next guy, and we, too, deserve a fancy private club where we can talk, eat, drink and play pool."

The acting gang fought back be founded The Players on Gramercy Park. The paintbrush and chisel crowd, meanwhile, formed the Salmagundi Club. Begun in 1870, it's the oldest artists' club in American. Since 1917, it's been located in fine townhouse on Fifth Avenue between 11th and 12th. John La Farge, Louis C. Tiffany and Stanford White were once members (women weren't allowed until 1973!). But it's safe to say that the Salmagundi hasn't much been in the news in recent decades. Still, there it stands, with regular exhibitions open to the public daily.

It's funny how these old meeting house are all laid out basically the same. The walls are coated with portraits and caricatures of old members, as well as various honors and trophies long ago bestowed on the club. A grand staircase dominated each floor. Then, downstairs, there's a canteen for members, a cozy, brown-wood affair with a fireplace, small bar, and a limited saloon-type menu. It's quaint beyond belief. Mugs hang from the ceiling. There's a brass bell which I imagine is used to call folks to dinner. (Are there ever enough people present to warrant its use, I wonder?)

Pool seems to have been very important at the Salmagundi at one point. There's a spacious, sunken pool room equipped with three large pool tables. What tournaments could be held here!

For an artists' club, I didn't spy many great works of art on the walls. Some decent genre stuff of its period, certainly, but little that was museum quality. Perhaps the most valuable thing on display was the framed easel of painter George Innes, one of the most illustrious of the club's former presidents.

One interesting aspect of the building: it's said to possess the only stoop left in all of Fifth Avenue. And you know what that means—Salmagundi is the only place on Fifth that can still have a stoop sale.

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