When it comes to Houston's social scene, few institutions can top the history and legacy of the legendary Houston Club. Founded in 1894, the club moved spent almost 60 years in its home on Rusk at a space designed by Houston icon Jesse Jones before moving in January to its new location in the former Plaza Club space on the 49th floor of One Shell Plaza. After a $3.5 million renovation, the Houston Club is ready to show off its new digs and begin the process of recruiting new members.
"The time was perfect" to make the move, Houston Club general manager Nadia Sant tells CultureMap. With its original, 60-year lease set to expire in 2014, the club was already in the process of decided whether to seek a new location. When a merger with the Plaza Club became possible, the ability to secure its "fantastic location" while still catering to members who mostly work within two blocks of the Rusk space made it a natural fit. The club threw a gala New Year's Eve event to celebrate the move then re-opened atop One Shell Plaza on Jan. 2.
Even tables in the club's dining rooms have binoculars on them.
ClubCorp, the international company that owns and operates the Houston Club and other, similar businesses, spent a lot of money to create "a club of the future" that would draw in both younger members and be more appealing to women. The new spaces contains two restaurants, one suitable for formal dining and another more casual. There are also meeting spaces and a ballroom that can accommodate up to 200 guests.
First, though, there's the view. From 49 stories up, club members can see south to the refineries in Deer Park and Texas City. Independence Day fireworks happen at eye level. When the former Foley's/Macy's department store on Main Street was imploded, the club held a brunch that gave the 70 attendees a top-down view of the action. Even tables in the club's dining rooms have binoculars on them.
Two places to dine
Allen's Landing is the more casual dining space without a formal dress code. Named after the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo bayous where John and Augstus Allen founded Houston, the space has a nautical theme. The menu has sharable starters and a wide variety of entrees; there's everything from simple salads to more decadent fare like burgers and pasta. Members can sit at individual tables, a community table or the bar. They only pay half price for food, which makes dining in the club both a welcome respite from the chaotic scene in the downtown tunnels and a decent value.
"The menus need to change all the time to keep diners interested," Sant says.
The Magnolia Room is the club's second, more formal dining space that serves lunch and dinner. It only opened last month. Eventually, the club will open up reservations on a limited basis through Open Table to give people a chance to evaluate the experience and determine whether club membership is for them.
Speaking of membership, new members come almost exclusively through referral by an existing member. The costs are not insubstantial. People 40 and under pay a $500 initiation fee and $123 per month; members 41+ pay a $1,000 initiation fee and $182 per month. Perks include free parking, discount on theater tickets and, most importantly, access to ClubCorp facilities around the world. Although the Houston Club lacks a workout facility, other ClubCorp properties in Houston have them.
Sant cites the many networking opportunities club membership provides as its biggest benefit. She points to individual diners sharing stories at the community table and describes the various events that bring young professionals together to hear advice from leaders in their respective fields. In this age of online social networks, the idea of face to face, personal interaction may seem either quaint or refreshing, depending on one's perspective. Perhaps enough people will decide its worthwhile to affiliate themselves with one of Houston's most enduring institutions.
And that view really is spectacular.