Sometimes it’s all too easy to take Columbia’s status as an elite institution for granted. But why not take advantage of it instead? The Columbia Club in New York City—aka the “off-campus continuum of Columbia University’s intellectual, academic, and professional impact on New York City and the world”—sounds pretty dang fancy, but is it actually worth the cost of membership (free)? Senior Staff Writer Britt Fossum braves the ice (and icy glares of alumni) to check it out.
The official website of the Columbia Club mentions only in its history page that thanks to “the 1960s, an era of diminished alumni involvement,” the club had to close down for a few years before limping through the doors of the Princeton Club in the ’80s. That means that everything from decor to the plaque on the outside of the building all venerate the Princeton Tigers. Columbia is just a “club in residence.”
The building was fairly plain on the outside; the only thing separating it from a typical office building was a line of college flags hanging above the door. I walked through the door after a pair of energetic young professionals coming in for their daily squash session. Even though I had registered as a member online and been accepted, I had not received my member card in the mail. No one was sitting at the front desk so it didn’t matter much. I finally managed to find some sort of desk to check in at, but it ended up being the hotel desk for renting out rooms and I was told that as a member I pretty much had the run of the place. In fact, only part of the building is made up of club facilities and the rest is essentially a decent hotel for club members who don’t live in the city and want an exclusive place to stay. At least two floors are empty conference and party rooms used for club events and for members to rent out if they can spare a couple thousand dollars. Another floor houses a restaurant—one of the only rooms in the building that looks like it should belong to a pretentious social club. Everything else had vaguely nice leather couches and beige walls and a vague kind of mood lighting.
The basement has a gym room, ping pong table, and several squash courts. A cooler is stocked with Vitamin Waters and Heineken and the walls are lined with more trophies and plaques than Columbia’s entire athletic department. The man at the desk tells me I need to make an appointment to use the courts. I tell him I should probably learn how to play squash first.
My final stop is the library on the first floor. As I walk through the doorway I pass two middle-aged women discussing their tennis league and whether the club catering meets their expectations for party hosting. I pick up a couple of newsletters. The events have names like “Philanthropy Panel,” “The Annual Snow Ball,” and “Whiskey and Cigars.” Sadly, I missed the Harvard Club’s “Mistletoe Mixer” back in December.
I think about getting some work done before I leave, but everyone else is reading the newspaper or a New York Times-reviewed novel and all I have is a computer that makes annoying buzzing noises. I turn around and walk out of the library, but before I can fully leave the building a man follows me and asks if I’m a prospective Princeton student there for my alumni interview. What kind of person makes a high school kid come to an alumni club for an interview?
I was a bit disappointed to be honest; it’s like the association doesn’t realize that the idea of a big fancy alumni club is kind of dated and has instead tried to modernize. I was hoping it would’ve embraced decadence and gone all out, but instead it was muted and kind of tasteful. Well, membership is free, and maybe I can show it off to my parents when they come into town.