The old adage is true: We want what we can’t have. For many of us, this means a glimpse into the many members-only clubs that dot Chicago, which allow only a select few in that meet certain criteria.
Be that as it may, there are a few ways to see inside these exclusive societies. Number one is—as it seems to be with most things—knowing the right people. We interviewed a few of these special insiders to get the scoop on everything you need to take a step inside the secretive doors of these private Chicago clubs.
THE SKY-LINE CLUB
An Intimate Affair
Herbert Bell fell in love with an English pub in Sussex—so much so that he purchased, dismantled and reconstructed it as part of the Bell Building (now Old Republic) in Chicago. Today, 91 years later, the Sky-Line Club still retains the pub’s historic charm, with restorations throughout the years that help keep it fresh and exciting.
Nonmembers don’t need to know a member to host an event here, but will be required to pay an extra room fee. Guests can also simply dine if invited and accompanied by a member.
Meetings and events at the Sky-Line Club tend to be on the smaller side, providing an intimate feel. For a sit-down dinner, the venue can hold up to 60 people, while 99 guests can attend a cocktail-type event or stationed buffet.
The club can also create customized menus for private events. Whether it’s giant prawns for a cocktail soiree or beer and sausage for an Oktoberfest-style event, the staff at the club is more than capable. And décor can easily give the room whatever vibe you wish.
“The space is absolutely lovely,” says LJ Haddad, member services and event director. “I love the ambiance because it’s very friendly and cordial.”
UNIVERSITY CLUB OF CHICAGO
An Urban Country Club
Another old soul is the University Club of Chicago. Founded in 1887, its sole mission was for academic purposes, but as time passed, that mission changed. “The club was built with the idea of fostering knowledge and learning, and that evolved over time into the club it is today,” says Mark Baker, executive chef. “We call ourselves a kind of country club in the city.”
Five restaurants and bars, a 60-room hotel and 16 private dining rooms encompass 24,000 square feet of event space in the 12-story building. In total, parties as small as two to as large as 500 can be accommodated. The dining options are diverse, ranging from casual burgers to soft shell crab and short ribs and more seasonal cuisine. To host an event at the club, a nonmember must be sponsored and may only visit when accompanied by a member (unless they are attending a private event).
Currently, the University Club of Chicago is undergoing an expansion that will make the facility even larger. The purchase of an eightstory building to the north will add about 3,000 square feet of event space and will be connected via the seventh and eighth floors.
“When you walk into the space, it will look like it’s been there forever,” Baker says. “The engineering is quite amazing. You won’t ever feel like you’re leaving the existing clubhouse because it’s a seamless transition.”
SOHO HOUSE CHICAGO
Created specifically for those in the creative industry—film, media, etc.—Soho House Chicago also boasts large event spaces with intricate details and different personalities. The club is just one of 18 across the world.
While one must be a member to visit some sections of the club, Soho House Chicago stands out in this group with the option for non-members to visit a number of restaurants and the on-site hotel without any accompaniment.
“Unique to the Chicago property are the many public-facing areas that locals and visitors can appreciate year-round,” says General Manager James Barnett.
Soho House Chicago has four spaces for events. The Belt Room is 1,600 square feet and can accommodate 100 guests for a cocktail party and 60 for a seated meal; the Screening Room has seating for up to 30; the Allis Mezzanine space can host 35-150; and the Cowshed, which is a spa, can accommodate up to 80 individuals.
There are also six dining options on-site. Three of them—The Allis, Chicken & Farm Shop and Fox Bar—are open to the public. Tantalizing dishes include the chicken pot pie (one of Barnett’s favorites as it reminds him of his time in London), chicken and waffles, and hamburgers with bone marrow and dry-aged beef, which Barnett says are the best undiscovered burgers in Chicago.
“Members often tell me that there is no place like Soho House in the city—that we’ve established a haven for creatives that never existed before,” says Barnett. “It’s a privilege to provide that.”
THE METROPOLITAN CLUB
A Club in the Sky
Sixty-six floors above Chicago’s street level is The Metropolitan Club inside Willis Tower. Part of ClubCorp—a collection of private business and sports clubs across the country—The Metropolitan Club is intended for working professionals.
Both members and nonmembers can host events here, and nonmembers can dine without members—but only through booking reservations via the online restaurant reservation platform OpenTable. Some examples of the samplings to feast on at the venue include herbcrusted rack of lamb, cabernet-braised short rib and a lobster bisque soup.
There are 16 private event spaces, which can be combined in many different ways. Capacity within each ranges from 12 people conference-style to 400 standing. The standalone Oak Room can also host 400 for a cocktail reception.
There are an additional 10 meeting/event rooms on the 67th floor, three of which can be conjoined for a larger area. Capacity ranges from two seated to 200 people for a cocktail reception here.
Ashley Toomey, senior director of private events, notes that one of the best parts of the club is the employees. “The Metropolitan Club is a wonderful team, from leadership to service, kitchen and beyond,” she says. “It’s a family that makes me enjoy being at the club every day.”