Following the inauguration of London’s Soho House in 1995, and later its NYC debut in 2003, we were pretty sure the floodgates would be opening on a trend that would actually seem a bit antithetical to 21st Century social mores. Yet in hindsight, it’s all made (im)perfect sense. After all, in a splintering new work/office culture, the ability to make schmoozing – sorry, networking – a matter-of-fact aspect of one’s larger lifestyle was becoming, if not exigent, at least increasingly pragmatic.
But the celebrity/glamour factor could really not be overstated. The possibility of a casual brush with a Gallagher in London or an Olsen in NYC was generously included in the price of membership. So what happens, then, when the concept is transported to a city that does not actively cultivate fame? Like, say…Philadelphia.
We arrived at the Filter Club on a bright summer Friday morning, impressed by how successfully they had in fact hidden the place away from general public scrutiny – as if maybe Bond were inside conferring with Q on a new top-secret, nuclear-missile-launching Aston Martin prototype.
Of course, we weren’t expecting to simply bump into Bella Hadid or Harry Styles in the elevator – but that’s never really been the point in Philly, has it? And in virtually every other way, the Fitler was breathtaking in its ambition to engender a new paradigm of contemporary members’ clubs.
Its DNA? It was conceived and founded by financier David Gutstadt, who raised more than $20 million for the project…and it showed. Stunningly realized but frippery-free interiors exhibited a remarkably cohesive stylistic manifesto, developed under the direction of Amanda Potter and Matthew Rosenberg of L.A.’s M-Rad, who infused the space with a sort of “concrete warmth.” Sure, it seems a cliche already to use the term “rustic-industrial” – but nothing could describe the aesthetic more pithily.
Indeed, there was an overarching warehouse-like feel to the space, with its grey ceilings, exposed pipes and general sort of Corbusian lack of unnecessary adornment. And the bar / lounge areas were divided by factory-like glass doors, which allowed for practical separation and visual energy at once.
The Rooms at Fitler Club (opened to the public) lined a dark, enigmatic hallway, surely meant to feel exclusive and secretive. Even the standard chambers were paragons of style. But our loft suite was in-effect an immense, airy apartment, with massive ceilings, attractive, light wood flooring, mega screen TVs in both directions, and an elegantly hip, green velvet corner couch. Details were as sly as they were classy: big B&W photos, a mini Marshall guitar amp, an old fashioned phone, retro bedside timekeepers from London Clocks, and a striking, glass-paneled bathroom. Even the bar utensils were impressively design aware.
A very clever touch? The desk was hidden behind the headboard, encouraging us to take our work out into one of the common spaces – btw, another very large one is being built as we write this – and thus increasing the overall sociability factor.
But it was the sheer scope of the Fitler Club that left us with uncharacteristically dropped-jaw. With a 20,000 foot swim club in the works for 2021 – it will be located just across the street – the goal is, ostensibly, to take over the entire block. And indeed, we were escorted further down the street to an eye-popping event space, complete with gaming room and groovy, neon mini-bowling alley, as well as a photo-booth room that doubles as an exhibition space for the work of local artists – as selected by Philly collective Tiny Room For Elephants. (The Fitler Club also offer residencies to local artists in exchange for artworks – a good deal for all.)
Yet for such an expansive place, there were no shortage of thoughtful little touches. Planted trees, mod but comfy rocking chairs, white brick fireplaces. But turn a corner and you might find yourself dazzled by an Alan Katz, a Joseph Beuys…even a Damien Hirst butterfly painting hung nonchalantly along a not particularly prominent wall.
What all the contemporary private clubs had mostly failed to achieve, however, were destination restaurants (though London’s Dean Street Townhouse is worth it for the scene and the bloody marys, at least). But the Fitler Club’s eponymous eatery is overseen by perhaps Philadelphia’s most exalted culinary eminence, Marc Vetri – whose list of honors would make a five-star general green with jealousy.
Settling in to a table by the window, we were immediately struck by what a quintessential Philadelphia tableau would be accompanying our dinner: the city’s renowned Deco-era 30th Street Station just across the Schuykill River; the blue glow of the epic skyscrapers straddling the station; and just below our window, ramshackle freight trains humming by amidst the subversive splashes of genuine – as in, not calculatedly commissioned – graffiti.
Dishes were as unexpected and individualistic as the city itself: corn agnolotti with truffles, cacio e pepe pizza (seriously, you can’t imagine). But perhaps most tellingly, we found ourselves engaged in a spirited, thoughtful conversation with our server, who was threatening to abandon his comedy career out of the usual frustrations – against which we naturally protested, hoping to urge him towards hanging on to his dream, as youth should always do.
And that in-effect summed up what we love most about the Fitler Club and the city of Philadelphia. This is a place that nurtures creativity rather than glorifying fame – and here was a place to be your most creative. Most amusingly, our fave take away from the experience was the possibility that we’d just met the next Bill Burr or Jon Stewart, serving us up that sublime cacio e pepe pizza.
Priceless, to say the least.