Say the words "Friars Club" to any native New Yorker of a certain age and they'll conjure up images of a golden era. Through the years comedy legends like Milton Berle, George Burns and Jerry Lewis have been members of the New York landmark institution. And that, odd as it may seem, was a problem. Its grand traditions aside, the Friars Club pre-pandemic didn't exactly attract a Gen X or Millenial crowd. It's hard to pull in a youthful audience when some of your biggest stars are often seen in fuzzy black and white images.
Fast forward to April 2021, when, after being closed for over a year following the COVID-19 shuttering, the Friars Club has officially reopened and is debuting a whole new makeover to members and guests.
Residing in the heart of Manhattan on 55th Street between Madison and Park Ave, the Friars Club 31-year-old General Manager Anthony Trombetta has overseen the club’s operations since 2019 and is dedicated to preserving its integrity, but at the same time also welcoming a fresh, young crowd of New York entertainers and professionals.
In addition to its mostly boomer members, Trombetta and his staff have recently strived to modernize the club’s reputation by targeting millennials and Gen Zers who are opting for a more casual style of dining and entertainment, while sporting their skinny jeans and high-top sneakers.
“We’re the only private club that is a combination of old and new. The Friars Club is the place where younger and older meet. We want members who are interested in joining from ages 21-90,” said Trombetta.
In January 2020, the Friars Club temporarily shut its doors due to flooding after a water pipe burst. Less than two months later, all private clubs were forced to follow suit due to COVID-19 restrictions. The shutdown, however, provided Trombetta and his staff ample time to gut renovate the entire building, which has been referred to as the “Jerry Lewis Monastery” since 2014.
“Clubs and private clubs were all struggling. We had this unique opportunity over 14 months to completely change our way of thinking,” said Trombetta.
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Throughout the construction period, Trombetta held “Zoom Socials” to keep current members entertained and get them excited for the club’s reopening. These virtual events had a packed agenda full of stand-up comedy, musical performances and even Friars Club-themed Jeopardy. “I’ll take Frank Sinatra for $200, Alex.”
The club’s renovations included completely revamping the second floor Barbara Streisand Room to include brighter colors, trendy greenery and fresh flowers at every table, which the staff replaces every two weeks. The dark carpeting that gave the club a gloomier, castle-esque vibe was replaced with hardwood floors shinier than Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond earrings.
But the changes to the club go deeper than physical renovations. Trombetta and his team have worked to appeal to the younger generations by creating common workspaces where writers and comedians could come together to collaborate and be inspired.
“It’s not just what we did to the walls, but we completely changed the way we help the staff and cater to our members,” said Trombetta. “Everything from our accounting practices and pay logs to how we schedule our employees became different.”
Comedian and longtime Friar Turner Sparks is excited to be back performing at the club and sharing laughs with old friends.
“All of us are close and part of a tight knit community,” said Sparks.
Sparks, who recorded his comedy album “Turner Sparks Live from the Friars Club,” in 2019 is especially eager for the in-house Podcast studio to open, which is currently in the works.
The stand-up comedian also hopes to connect with the community and give back as the club plans to launch volunteer initiatives for members and staff.
Despite all the recent updates, Trombetta believes that the ultimate key to success is centered around its programming.
“Programming is so important to getting people in. There has to be something for everyone,” Trombetta said.
The May line-up already includes a plethora of live events such as “Comedy & Cocktails,” a “Long Island Wine Tasting” and the fan-favorite “Friars Club Live.”
For those inquiring about membership, Trombetta encourages them to come to the club during its “Alive Hour,” which is the time of evening where everyone starts congregating for the night’s festivities.
“Alive Hour feels like a double shot of espresso!” said Trombetta.