Welcome to the Club
Delaware’s two dining clubs may have a reputation for stuffiness, but, having kept up with the times magnificently, that rep is undeserved. Peek inside the new University & Whist Club and the kind-of-new Wilmington Club. Wine, anyone?
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One is redolent of old names, old money and tradition. The other exudes a Gen-X vibe, even a little Gen-Y. One requires men to wear a tie at lunch. The other requires a collared shirt and prohibits jeans—except in summer, when even shorts and sandals are allowed. One is listed in the Wilmington phone book. The other has a sophisticated, interactive Website, a bi-monthly, four-color newsletter, and an elaborate membership packet.
Despite these and other differences, The Wilmington Club and The University & Whist Club, both born in the 19th century, have one thing in common: They have survived as Delaware’s only dining clubs by offering the very best cuisine—and by adjusting to the economic and cultural pressures of the 21st century.
The 155-year-old Wilmington Club is housed anonymously, since moving from French Street in 1900, in a three-story brownstone at 1103 N. Market St., the former home of former member John Merrick. It is the third-oldest dining club in the country, behind The Philadelphia Club (1834) and the Union Club of New York (1836). Its image about town—to those who are even aware of it—is of middle-aged men lounging in deep leather chairs, enjoying brandy and cigars after a sumptuous meal. Indeed, it began, like its predecessors, as a men’s club,
The image may be somewhat accurate, but the club’s two-volume history suggests that the venerable building has seen its share of frat-boy behavior. For instance, there is this rule, adopted in 1876: “The Club House shall be opened every day for the reception of members at 7 o’clock in the morning and shall be closed at half-past 2 o’clock in the morning, but this rule shall not require the departure of those who at such time may be within the Club House.”
Since the club now closes at 6:30 p.m., that rule no longer applies. Likewise, today’s members are not given to setting off firecrackers under the tables during the annual October dinner, a practice that, according to volume 2 of the club history, ended in the 1970s. And games of pool that elicited “some Anglo-Saxon phrases” are no longer played.
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