All clubs have amenities, whether they be a reading room or a private dining room or a great gym or a hidden bar, and those amenities help make time spent in a club more enjoyable. But in what feels like an increasingly fractured world, what we really want in a club is community—a place to gather together with people who share similar interests to enjoy each other’s company. Though different in many ways, these two clubs excel at that common goal.
Club 33 at Walt Disney World
Disney doesn’t talk much about Club 33, which began as an upscale, members-only restaurant and lounge in the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland. For devoted Disney-ites, that’s part of its appeal: In one of the world’s most popular attractions, Club 33 is a welcoming space where you can both take a break from the park yet simultaneously immerse yourself in Disney lore. How exactly Club 33 came to be, what Walt’s role in its creation was, what the meaning of the Disney-centric decorations are—some of these things are shrouded in myth, and some of them are wonderful stories that the Club 33 “cast members,” as Disney calls its employees, will share with you. You can find speculation about Club 33 at ubiquitous Disney fan sites, but you really won’t know what’s true and what isn’t unless you’re a member.
There are now other Club 33 outposts at Tokyo Disneyland, Shanghai Disney Resort and Walt Disney World in Orlando. A few months ago, Disney gave me a private tour of one of the three branches of Club 33 then open in Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Magic Kingdom; I saw the Hollywood Studios club. I promised Disney not to tell you where exactly it is—though if you’ve been to Hollywood Studios you’ve probably walked right by it without knowing—and I wasn’t allowed to take notes or pictures. But I can say that it was an incredible space, and for people who are deeply passionate about the world of Disney, it’s basically nirvana. I subsequently recommended Club 33 to a friend whose family goes to Disney about once a month. They’d never heard of it and decided to join the club, which, as Paul Oppedisano, vice president premium services at Disney World, told me recently, has a “typical club membership process.” (Disney won’t talk about the cost of membership, but it’s fair to say that Club 33 is targeted at high net worth visitors.)
Now, my friends tell me, Club 33 has become an integral part of their Disney trips. While they’re visiting the club, cast members serve as concierges, arranging dinner plans, helping with tickets, making recommendations for events around the parks. And Club 33s host special, member-only events, like one that’s coming up for the launch of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World. Being able to stay on property but take a break from the energy and crowds of Disney World allows them to enjoy the resort even more than they already did, my friends report.
Later this year, Disney World is opening a fourth Club 33 at the Animal Kingdom park; the image above is a rendering, and Oppedisano wouldn’t provide much more in the way of specifics. “We’re really trying to create a kind of oasis in the parks,” he did say. “We’re tying in to the heritage of Club 33 from Disneyland, but each club is unique. From a heritage standpoint, we really drew from the Walt side, Walt and his adventures through the movies. Each club pulls on a string of what Walt loved, so as you’ll see from the rendering of the Animal Kingdom club, it’s his love of animals and sketching the animals for the animation.”
If you don’t get how passionate some people are about Disney, Club 33 is not for you. But if you love the stories and the history and the remarkable creativity of Walt Disney’s imagination, and want to get to know other people who share that joy, Club 33 was made for you. Just don’t talk about it too much.
If you’re interested in applying, write to email@example.com.
Fitler Club, Philadelphia
As you’d expect from an historic East Coast city, Philadelphia has some old school, old world clubs: the Union League, the Racquet Club, the Acorn Club. Fitler Club, which opened earlier this year, is different. The brainchild of entrepreneur David Gutstadt, a Goldman Sachs alum who also spent several years working in hospitality and real estate, Fitler Club is modern and cool without feeling like an overdose of attitude.
On the outside, the club is a little gritty. You can enter through a small door—it’s easy to miss—embedded along one side of the former Marketplace Design Center. Or you can come in on the opposite side of the club through an alley door on South 24th Street. I visited Fitler Club recently, and my taxi driver was completely flummoxed as we pulled into the address and found ourselves stuck behind an 18-wheeler in a narrow loading zone.
Inside, that sense of escape from the noise and stress of a downtown is profound. The anchor of the club, I would argue, is a world-class, 25,000-square-foot gym called the Field House. Among the weights, exercise machines and fitness classes that you might expect, the gym offers a golf simulator, a rock wall, mixed martial arts and aquatic classes. (It also has a 75-foot, three-lane pool.) It’s not just that you could get and stay fit there, but that you’d never get bored doing it.
But if the gym is Fitler’s foundation, both literally and metaphorically, the club’s upper levels have an impressive number of offerings. The walkway door enters into a beautifully outfitted Living Room, whose elevator takes you into the club lobby. Like the rest of the club, the lobby, with its meticulously curated art, is cool without being cold. From the lobby you can pass through into the Dining Room restaurant. I had breakfast there, and everything was fresh and good. But what I really liked was that the tables and banquets were located with abundant space between them, so you could have a work conversation—well, any kind of conversation—discreetly. That’s exactly what you want from a club. An added bonus: A percentage of member’s initiation fees will go to the club’s own nonprofit foundation, which is aimed at giving back to Philadelphia communities.
Then there’s a bar and lounge, an inviting space that made me want to drink more, and a back bar that’s a smaller, more intimate space. There’s also a small screening room—the night before my visit, the club had hosted a screening of the film Blinded by the Light— and a nearby private dining room tricked out with everything necessary for cooking demonstrations. Downstairs is a game room, with ping-pong, bowling lanes and pinball machines. It’s all done with style and humor; the ping-pong table is made out of walnut, the bowling balls are fashioned to look like billiard balls. The game room may have been my favorite space; it’s sophisticated and adult but also appealed to the kid in me, the one who always wanted a game room like this. (And though I didn’t see many kids there, the club is affirmatively family friendly; members with young children could easily while away a day here.)
You don’t have to be a member to stay at Fitler Club; it has 14 guest rooms—called, yes, The Rooms—open to the public. The one I stayed in was big and comfortable, with an entire wall of windows, a pleasant workspace and an enormous bathroom. But this is not your parents’ club (well, not my parents, anyway): the shower featured a glass wall, visible from the bedroom until it steamed up.
So you can eat, drink, exercise and play at Fitler Club; you can also work—there’s collaborative workspace available, and more coming—and get married (there’s a ballroom). For a bride and groom who wanted to stay there, along with their parents and siblings perhaps, this would be a one-stop-shop location.
I’ve spoken with founder David Gutstadt twice, and his passion for his creation comes through; from start to finish, Gutstadt imagined, funded and built this club in an impressively quick three years. You can tell that he’s worked long hours to get it done and that Fitler isn’t just a business proposition but also a labor of love for him. Though he’s hoping to expand to other cities, Gutstadt should take a moment to catch his breath and pat himself on the back. Fitler Club is a fantastic addition to Philadelphia and to the competitive ranks of club land in general.
For more information, visit fitlerclub.com.