The Palm Beach social season may traditionally wind down next month, but a new private club is just getting started.
Carriage House opens the doors of its landmarked buildings by architects Addison Mizner and Maurice Fatio this month, bringing a new spot for dining and socializing to the town that experienced a resurgence and attracted scores of young families during the pandemic.
The private club—the latest in a number of recent openings—is the vision of founders Michael and Paula Bickford, who moved to Palm Beach from London eight years ago. The couple came across the Mizner-designed building, at 264 South County Road, while restoring their own home from the 1930s. The building once contained the world’s first stock trading floor and was built for Marjorie Merriweather Post’s husband, EF Hutton. More recently, it was home to the restaurant 264 the Grill, which closed in 2015.
Michael, a real estate investment fund manager, developed the plan to preserve and restore the Mizner building and its Fatio-designed neighbor at 270 South County Road. Michael R. McCarty, who owned and operated the beloved Michael R. McCarty’s restaurant in the Royal Poinciana Plaza for more than a decade before it closed in 2016, helped the founders navigate concerns raised by the community in the early stages of the project as they sought Town Council approval.
“The restoration of two of the most prominent buildings in Palm Beach was both an incredible opportunity and a responsibility,” Michael says in press materials for the club. “Through our work, we intend to honor the great minds who built the foundations of Palm Beach as it is today. Our dream is for the Club to have true longevity. To become a place for generations of friends and families to enjoy. Together, we can celebrate the past and create the future by honoring the spirit of the early twentieth century.”
Michael’s wife, Paula, who was born in Brazil and traded commodities there before studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London, oversaw the design of the club. As creative director, she tapped architect Keith Spina to handle the restoration of the buildings and worked with Madrid-based designer Luis Bustamante on the interiors.
The design elements include an art collection featuring works by Robert Longo, Tracey Emin, and Brice Guilbert among other well-known artists, backgammon-inspired wood floors in the club’s reading room, an emerald bathroom with a backlit green agate stone floor, hand- painted Portuguese-tiled walls, tabletops of semiprecious stones in the dining room, and a carefully restored fireplace in the Mizner building. The courtyard’s sidewalk is built in the same style as the one at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro—a nod to Paula’s Brazilian heritage.
Along with the design, the opportunity to have another place to dine out and entertain is what attracted several Palm Beach residents to accept the club’s invitation to join and pay an initiation fee rumored to be in the six figures. Both Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine will be served; the Mediterranean offerings will be overseen by Chef Mathias Gervais—who previously worked with top chefs Daniel Boulud and Joël Robuchon—and the Japanese cuisine will be handled by Chef Shuji Hiyakawa, who trained under Masaharu Morimoto.
Carriage House’s Niche in a Club-Rich Town
What will Carriage House add to a town of about 9,000 that already has its fair share of social clubs? “It’s giving the community an exciting, delicious, beautiful place to go and gather across generations in a place that feels like a home away from home,” says one member, who grew up in Palm Beach and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The member said they are looking forward to having a new nighttime destination. “A long time ago, there were places people could go out for after-dinner drinks, but Palm Beach is lacking that now and people just go home after dinner,” they said. “It will be fun to have this concept where one can go to a wonderful place and entertain outside of your home as if it were your own house—where you know everyone and each room has a cozy, homey feel.”
Some other appealing aspects of Carriage House for the member are the wide range of ages that are joining and easy access to prime dinner reservations—which have become quite the commodity since the pandemic began and new arrivals descended on the Palm Beach area in droves.
“I know people who don’t go out to restaurants between January and March because it’s so hard to get a reservation,” the member said. “It will be nice to look forward to a great place with incredible food and not have to think about calling weeks in advance to get a reservation.”
Privacy is Paramount
The club will enforce a strict no-photo and no-phone policy, Paula Bickford said, and members have been receptive. “It’s not about depriving you from using your phone—it’s about letting you know that nobody who is there is using their phone, so you are relaxed, you know you will not end up on social media, and you are in a place to enjoy yourself, your family, your friends, along with good food, good ambiance, good music, and good art.”
When asked about qualifications for membership, a representative for Carriage House provided the following statement: “Membership is carefully curated to reflect the Club’s sophisticated, yet playful atmosphere and includes a diverse group of individuals with new and generational ties to Palm Beach.”
The membership number is capped by the town of Palm Beach, and occupancy will be limited to 225 people except for special events, when it will be 250.
Community Members Take Note
Mish Tworkowski, who recently opened his Mish Fine Jewelry studio across from the Carriage House buildings in Phipps Plaza, says he and his team are excited about the new addition to the community: “As a neighbor of the Carriage House, we are delighted by the beautiful renovation they have undertaken with their historic buildings.It will certainly bring life and beauty to Phipps Plaza and our wonderful part of Palm Beach.”
Photographer Nick Mele, who spends his winters in Palm Beach, summed up some of the early skepticism that has given way to intrigue among members of the community: “I would have been dubious if the town could support another private club until all of these new people started moving down during the pandemic,” Mele says. “Now I think there is an excess of people looking for fun things to be a part of. So, in that sense, the timing might be perfect.”
Miami and New York’s New Club Scene
The timing may be perfect indeed, as sleek, new private clubs have also opened recently in Miami and New York. In Miami’s Design District, Major Food Group collaborated with designer Ken Fulk on ZZ’s Club, which features a cigar lounge and a modern Japanese restaurant with Tokyo-sourced seafood and the largest offering of Wagyu beef in South Florida. The Bath Club, Miami’s oldest membership club, recently reopened on Miami Beach after an extensive renovation of its 1927 building.
In lower Manhattan, the Cipriani family opened Casa Cipriani in the 1909 Beaux-Arts Battery Maritime Building last September. The club includes a restaurant, jazz café, spa, ballroom, and 47 rooms and suites with private balconies overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.
Uptown on Fifth Avenue, Brazilian restaurateur and JHSF opened the Fasano Club at Fasano Fifth Avenue last year. With interiors by architect Thierry W. Despont, the club offers members the opportunity to book 3,600-square-foot, full-floor duplex suites overlooking Central Park. A few blocks south, the Aman New York will open this spring in the historic Crown Building at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.
Members of the Aman Club, a worldwide private club with a reported $100,000 initiation fee and annual dues of $15,000, have access to dedicated spaces within Aman destinations in urban locations. They will be able to take advantage of private club areas at the Aman properties in New York, Tokyo, and Venice, as well as all future urban destinations for the brand, like Aman Miami and Aman Nai Lert Bangkok. At Aman New York, the members-only Aman Club on the 14th and 15th floors of the 83-room hotel features a cigar lounge and a wine library.
Even in already-exclusive places like Palm Beach and Aman hotels, membership has its benefits.
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