Churchill Style Discovers NYC’s Down Town Association
I would never presume to speak for Winston Churchill. I am, however, convinced he would have enjoyed The Down Town Association very much. Certainly his friend Franklin did; FDR was a Down Town Association member from 1913 until his death in 1945. I enjoyed my recent evening there enormously, discoursing on Churchill Style before a very enthusiastic audience of over 80 members and guests from the New York alumni organizations of Cambridge, Oxford, the London School of Business and the London School of Economics.
I confess I’d never before heard of The Down Town Association. What a revelation it proved to be – an architecturally distinguished, quintessentially elegant private club of the classic type, preserved with stunning, pristine care. Adding to the kick of discovery was finding that the current president of The Down Town Association is a longtime customer of mine, one of my first customers, in fact, at Chartwell Booksellers going back thirty years – Mark Altherr. A painting of Mark stares down from a wall of portraits in the vaulting lobby off Pine Street; a lineage parade going back 150 years. Mark also sent me off in person upstairs in the club’s handsome lecture room with a charming introduction. Thank you Mark.
Situated at 60 Pine Street in the financial district, The Down Town Association is actually one of the oldest social clubs in New York – first chartered in 1859 and still occupying its original clubhouse, built in 1887 (plus an expansion completed in 1911). Created as a luncheon club at a time when fast-food was unknown and places to lunch in the downtown precincts of Wall Street were few, The Down Town Association, I’m told, in its prime, served 843 lunches a day.
Luncheon, as you may imagine, was one of Winston Churchill’s favorite things – and not solely for the food. Churchill loved to talk around the luncheon – or dinner table – conversation at table was in many ways his greatest sport and pastime: a means of simultaneously relaxing and sharpening his thinking, of letting down his guard and taking in ideas from others. Churchill believed in face-to-face conversation and the power of his own personal charm. During World War II his appetite for conversation and social contact with Stalin and Roosevelt helped build the alliances that shaped the outcome of the War as much as anything that transpired on the battlefields.
Thanks again to The Down Town Association for hosting me in the very best Churchill style; to another longtime Chartwell customer, Joe Forte (and his son Christian), who turned out to be Down Town Association members too, and shared their table with me at dinner, as well as a smashing private tour of the club that carried us way past midnight; and to Maria Fan of the Cambridge Alumni in New York for conceiving the event and choosing such a perfect setting.