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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On the other hand, it is no longer the club portrayed in 1973 by Ralph Nader in support of his contention that the DuPont Co. controlled Delaware. Nader claimed that “the wealthy and most powerful residents of Delaware sit around one large round table each day for lunch in an old brownstone house.” It is true, of course, that a long list of du Ponts have been members. Beginning in 1855, there have been 67 members with that surname, as well as numerous descendants from the female side of the family. Whatever their surname, all supposedly have passed what the club history calls “the ultimate test of being considered to provide engaging companionship at the big table, without regard to race, creed, color or sex.”
Cultural changes, including more restrained drinking habits, the migration of corporate offices to the suburbs, and an economic downturn, have conspired to alter the makeup of the membership. While deals are still sometimes brokered there and riotous laughter may at times emanate from its hallowed halls, it is no longer an old boys’ club. Minorities have been members at least since the mid-1980s, and women have been accepted since 1992. (Ellen Kullman, DuPont chair and CEO, is a member.)
The Wilmington Club also has tried recently to attract a younger crowd, which is one of the similarities it bears to its cross-town cousin, the University & Whist, at 805 N. Broom St. Despite its name, the club has not hosted a whist game in years, having evolved into a sort of contemporary country club—without the golf course.
The club traces its origins to 1891, when a group of Wilmington businessmen and professionals with an interest in whist and bridge decided to open a private club, the Wilmington Whist Club, on Gilpin Avenue. The rules were simple: no drinking, no gambling, no women.
The club soon moved clubhouses, joined the American Whist League and bought its own tables. By 1909 membership had grown to 175 men. In 1929 the Wilmington Whist Club bought its last clubhouse, at 1309 Delaware Ave. Two bowling lanes added to its allure.
Meanwhile, a group of male college graduates decided to form a club for social and business purposes. Formed in 1924 with 250 members, it was called the University Club of Wilmington.
More than 10 years later, the club moved to its current address. During World War II, club revenues and membership declined, but the club survived, and by the 1950s it became a center for young singles in Wilmington. In April 1958 the two clubs merged, and the site of the University Club became headquarters for the new University and Whist Club of Wilmington. Women were allowed as guests, but they were not accepted as members until 1988.
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