Private clubs have been a part of New York life since before Edith Wharton picked up a pen. But these social institutions had gotten stodgy over the better part of a century, until the Europeans breathed new life into the concept and—as with smallpox blankets and colonialism—brought these revitalized clubs across the pond in the early aughts. Suddenly, Manhattan had Soho House, and then Norwood House and NeueHouse, and ceaseless humblebrags under the guise of invitations to “have drinks at my club.” Certainly, I—a member of Norwood at the time—did my fair share of it.
Then, at some point in 2016, I caught wind of something new: a club opening by and for women. Exclusively. Housed in a swath of the Flatiron District known as the “Ladies’ Mile,” The Wing was promoted as a throwback with a modern twist: Where the well-heeled Gibson Girls once went to shop and socialize, the modern-day New York woman would work and socialize and pit-stop in between working and socializing. I was intrigued by the idea, applied, and—like a true New Yorker, ill-content with just letting the cards fall where they may—called around town to anyone I knew even tangentially attached to the project until I was certain that my membership card was en route. (It was.)
The Wing was, for me, a short-lived experiment. After the first year or so of the club’s existence, I let my membership lapse. The Wing proved short-lived itself—a project that first imploded in spectacular fashion in 2020, before finally closing its doors last week, holds up a mirror to the possibilities and pitfalls of hypercapitalism.
To start: Beyond the “flex” of belonging to something, there is, if you can afford it, a lot of practical benefit to being a member of a social club in New York. To be a New Yorker in the pre-2020 “before times” meant you were likely a busy person with time to kill between appointments. Places like The Wing and its predecessors gave members the gift of convenient and comfortable real estate: a place to grab a snack, send an email, or kill an hour before the next meeting, or simply a location at which to take said meeting. If you were a freelancer or an entrepreneur, these clubs provided the added advantage of a workspace to call your own, to say nothing of networking opportunities.