Located on 16 Gramercy Park South, The Players Club is a private, members-only social club founded in 1888 by noted Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth. The original purpose of the club was twofold: to renew the tarnished Booth name following the assassination of President Lincoln by Edwin’s younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, and to provide a social setting for up-and-coming artists to socialize with society’s elite.
Tesla was one of many notable members of the Players Club, which included big names like Stanford White, who built the Gramercy Park mansion, Carol Burnett, Ethan Hawke and Jimmy Fallon. As members-only club, visitors are not allowed to enter, but Untapped Cities is hosting several tours of the Players Club this fall.
Tickets for this exclusive event can be purchased below:
In the meantime, here are 10 of our favorite secrets we discovered about The Players Club:
10. The Human Skull Used in Hamlet is Housed Inside the Players Club
One of the most notable places in the stately townhouse is Edwin Booth’s very room. Located on the top floor of the Players Club, it has remained intact and preserved in time nearly exactly as he left it when he died in 1893. In fact, the very distinct smell of tobacco permeates the room, which is decorated with a marble fireplace, a chandelier, a triptych mirror and various photographs.
Probably the most creepy item is the human skull that Booth used in performances of Hamlet. As Christian Campbell, a Players Club member who let us into the room tells us, the skull belonged to a horse thief named Fontaine with whom Edwin’s father, Junius Brutus Booth, also a renown Shakespearean actor, once shared a jail cell with.
Fontaine was hung for his crimes but requested that Junius receive his skull, which was shipped to the Booth home in Baltimore. On the skull itself is an engrave phrase stating: “And the rest is silence.”
Read more on the Edwin Booth room here.
9. Mark Twain’s Pool Cue is Displayed at The Players Club
Housed in a stately Greek Revival townhouse, The Players Club occupies four floors, plus a taproom in the basement and the Grill, where members often gather for refreshments, food and conversation. One notable feature inside the Grill is its pool table where Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) frequently played with other members of the club.
In fact, Twain’s pool cue is currently displayed over his portrait, which sits above the fireplace. It accompanies the golf club of actor Jack Lemmon, as well as other pool cues belonging to actor Frank Morgan, newspaper columnist Franklin Pierce Adams and actor Roland Winters. In addition, the Card Room holds a poker table, which was also reportedly used by Twain.
8. The Players Club Gaslights Are Among the Few Remaining in New York City
Very much like the rest of the building, the exterior of The Players Club is notable for its ornate fixtures. A gold and black, wrought-iron railing surrounds the structure, stone balconies divide its floors and the club’s insignia, depicting two masks associated with comedy and tragedy, decorates its facade.
Particularly noteworthy are the two Renaissance-style gas lamps, with foot-long, jutting spikes, that frame each side of the entrance. According to The Players Club website, they are still functioning and are among the few remaining in New York City. When they were first installed, however, some complained that the lamps were a “garish addition to the neighborhood’s refined architecture.”
7. The Players Club Has a Weekly Pop-Up Restaurant
Members can grab dinner inside The Player’s Club Grill room
Should members and their guests find themselves hungry on a Friday night, they can head to The Players Club for its weekly pop-up restaurant, called “Edwin’s.” Claiming the title as the only restaurant overlooking Gramercy Park, Edwin’s was developed by management in order to encourage new membership and to create a better overall experience for existing members.
Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public, and reservations are required.
6. The Stained Glass Windows at The Players Club Are From a Demolished Philadelphia Theater
The Players Club Dining Room (stained glass window on the right)
To the left of the Great Hall sits the original Dining Room of The Players Club, which is frequently used for major events, performances and play readings. It’s decorated with paintings of notable people, including former president of the club, Walter Hampden, and actress Helen Hayes, the first woman elected to the membership of The Players.
The Dining Room also features two stained glass theater windows, which can been seen on the left and right walls. One depicts David Garrick as Richard III and the other is of Richard Mansfield in the same role; both are original leaded windows from the now demolished Garrick Theatre in Philadelphia.
Built in 1901, and designed by Willis G. Hale, the former theater stood beside the Hale Building and boasted 1,561 seats.
5. The Players Club Has Reciprocal Clubs Around the World
Inside the Explorers Club
Members of The Players Clubs do not only have invitations to weekly events and special programming, they have access to an entire network of reciprocal clubs around the world, and in major cities across the United States, including Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
To enter local clubs like The Coffee House, The Explorers Club and the Down Town Association, Player Club members simply have to show their membership card upon entry. To access locations outside of New York City, a letter of introduction is needed from the administrative office. International reciprocal clubs include the Garrick Club in London, the United Arts Club in Ireland and the Umed Club in India.
4. Members of The Player Clubs Are Granted Access to Gramercy Park
If you’ve ever jogged or strolled around Gramercy Park, you’ve probably peeked through its fence, and stared longingly at the green foliage inside. Located in the Gramercy Park Historic District, the 2-acre private green space is fenced-in all around, and only those with keys are granted access inside. As one of only private parks in New York City (and one of three in the state), it’s shrouded in mystery, leaving many New Yorkers intrigued.
To enter, you’ll need a numbered and coded key — but members of The Players Club have keyed-access to the park as part of their membership. Roughly keys 4oo are in circulation, but as The New York Times points out, they are very hard, if not impossible, to copy. Even if you do manage to nab a key, the locks change every year, so your best bet is to make friends with a nearby resident who lives in one of the 39 select buildings surrounding the park. These buildings pay a yearly fee to maintain the grounds, and two keys, managed by doormen, are allocated to each; they must be signed out by residents, but key holders can invite up to five guests in the park at a time.
Also check out The Top 10 Secrets of Gramercy Park in NYC.
3. The Library Inside The Players Club Is a Nonprofit Organization
Housed inside The Players Club is The Hampden-Booth Theatre Library, which holds a rare collection of 19th-century American and British Theatre books, props and other memorabilia. Originally left behind by Edwin Booth as a resource for young actors, the library was permanently chartered under the Education Law of the State of New York in 1963.
Today, it operates as a nonprofit organization that collects primary and secondary materials relating to Edwin Booth, his family, relevant 19th-century American and British theatre, Gramercy Park and The Players Club in general.
2. Sarah Bernhardt Once Got Stuck on The Players Club Elevator
The tiny elevator in The Players Club, nicknamed “Sarah Berhardt’s room,” has a slightly notorious reputation. The story goes as follows: on a visit to the club in 1911, Berhardt, a French actress, got stuck in the elevator while en route to see Booth’s famous bedroom. She was trapped for over an hour, and left in a huff, vowing to never come back.
The club’s members joked that the elevator was Sarah Bernhardt’s room, and it’s been called that ever since.
1. “Young Players” at The Players Club Have Special Privileges
The walls of The Players Club are covered with portraits of its members, like Jimmy Fallon
Being under 40 at The Players Club has its perks: a “Young Player” breaking into the arts can enjoy special programming and discounted rates to a variety of activities. Special events are also held throughout the year for younger members, including a Young Players Society Winter Ball and a weekly meetup, called #PlayersAfter, which takes place in the club’s Library and Card Room.
For more history and secrets about The Players Club, join us for an upcoming tour: