New York Old School Clubs Court Millennials with Baristas and Flex Workspace

One drops ban on laptops and jacket and tie requirement for brunch; older members ‘want their comfort zone’

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New York’s venerable private social clubs have a problem with aging members and declining dues. Now, by trying to modernize traditions and renovate passé interiors, they hope to court an unlikely savior: millennials.

The proprietors of the Friars Club, which occupies a 1908 mansion in Midtown Manhattan, are doing the most to excise stuffiness. The owners, a nonprofit organization, are overseeing a multimillion-dollar gut renovation to its property to appeal more to men and women in their 30s.

The club will reopen next year with casual dining, flexible workspace and a screening room. Its Billy Crystal barroom, which once served Borscht Belt stand-ups hard spirits, will operate in the morning as a laptop-friendly hangout with bagels and “a classically trained barista” pouring signature Friars Coffee.

“The décor will be more colorful and energized,” said Susan Cronin, the club’s treasurer. “Long gone is the wall-to-wall carpeting, burgundy chairs and 1970s millwork.”

The Friars Club isn’t alone in transforming Old World settings into more modern spaces like Soho House, Norwood Club and NeueHouse. These members-only establishments also have degrees of exclusivity and their own quirky rules—some have essentially prohibited suits and ties—but are aimed squarely at the younger generations.

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