Fireworks in their splendid colors and patterns exploded and danced against the night sky. The annual 4th of July event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art attracts tens of thousands each year. Instead of spending my time with the throngs of people, this year my wife and I chose a spot a mile downriver from the museum, at a private event for 100 or so persons on an outdoor patio of the Fitler Club, Philadelphia’s newest membership-only establishment.
Fitler Club is perhaps best described as a combination of Soho House, Equinox, and WeWork on a 135,000-square-foot urban campus. But it still doesn’t entirely define the breadth of what this social club represents. For example, there’s a 5,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor banquet space that can accommodate upwards of 500 persons for wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, and just about any other event imaginable. Throughout the campus is an extremely active multi-tiered arts program.
The best part is you can enjoy all the member services as a guest in one of its 14 hotel rooms.
Events like the Fourth of July picnic are held constantly and can range from food and wine tastings to artist and author lectures to children’s activities.
“Our programming department provides monthly activities. Kids’ clubs, theater talks, and Friday night dinners are all part of our programming,” says Alyssa Devore, VP of marketing for the club. “We hold monthly talks about the current news events. Recently Ali Velshi, (an award-winning television journalist) spoke about the war in Ukraine. We enjoy sharing someone’s experience, whether it’s with crypto, art, or anything else that’s educational and current.”
Bridging Philadelphia’s Past and Future
The club occupies three lower floors of a recently renovated 11-story steel and glass building on the edge of the center city. Everything about the Fitler Club ties Philadelphia’s industrial history with its aspiration to be a vibrant, trendsetting city. Its location on the East bank of the Schuylkill River (pronounced skoo kuhl) provides panoramic views of the city’s past and future. For example, on the west bank of the river the classical revival style of 30th Street Station, the city’s major transit station, and the former main post office (now a federal building) in its Mayan-inspired Art Deco design, are becoming eclipsed by cranes and new glass-and-steel structures, which are part of the $3.5 billion Schuylkill Yards multi-use project. Between the outside patio where the Fourth of July picnic was held, and the river is train tracks still used by freight trains. which provides a flash of the past.
Inside it’s much the same theme, as original building structures from the 1920s when it was a car factory, are offset with neutral color patterns, a variety of casual, contemporary furnishings, and other design details, to create an urban-chic design aesthetic. There are multiple restaurants and bars, a fully equipped two-story fitness center, a game room that includes a two-lane bowling alley, and a screening room that can accommodate 34 persons in plush chairs for private screenings or meetings.
Staying in the Fitler Club
The hotel with its 14 rooms and suites probably best defines this industrial and urban-contemporary design combination. Rooms can run anywhere from $340 to well over $1,000 a night.
The standard 400-square-foot room where I stayed had minimal furnishings, hardwood flooring, black and darkened wall coverings, and complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Even the in-room alcohol offerings were quite reasonable for a luxury hotel. High ceilings and large warehouse-style windows are original to the building. The bed is in the center of the room, and a green sectional couch is in the corner. The bathroom walls are white marble with a shower, a separate white tub, and a shallow white marble sink. Darkened metal fixtures keep with the industrial design motif.
The 25,000-square-foot fitness center, the “Field House,” was perhaps my favorite part of the campus and an exceptional perk for members. The two floors have everything one could want in a gym, including a rock wall, golf simulator, and a 75-foot three-lane lap pool.
There are no fewer than four restaurants and bars (inside and outside) on-site, each with its own identity and staffed with young attentive servers and bartenders. The main dining room, “The Square,” is a full-service restaurant open throughout the day. The “Bar + Lounge” is an all-day indoor-outdoor hangout for members. There’s a private bar and restaurant that functions as a sports bar and social hub.
The communal workspace, “Offsite,” combines a casual library-like atmosphere with private workspaces and meeting spaces. Several firms maintain permanent offices in this area. It’s an extra fee for members.
The one unifying feature that ties all the diverse offerings and design details together is art, the majority of which is from local artists. Murals of colorful graffiti-like designs line the walls of the fitness center. It complements a bright, colorful five-panel painting (a pentaptych), by Philadelphia artist, King Saladeen. Black-and-white 1960s-era photographs of women were on the walls of our guest room. In a private dining room, there is a single installment of 80 photographs of water titled, “Some Thames” by Roni Horn. A bright red stoneware basket in the open-worked Alhambra style by Andrea Marquis stands in a common area.
These artworks, known as the “Artists in Residency” program, are complemented by a partnership with Pace Gallery in New York to display five digital artworks from globally recognized creators, including Israeli artist Michal Rovner, international art-collective group teamLab, and American artist Leo Villarreal. They are on loan for a year. Finally, there’s a partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, the world-renowned outdoor mural program, to display works created by the Mural Arts Fellowship for Black Artists grant recipients around the club.
All the artworks are for sale.
A Cordial, Convivial, Congenial Atmosphere
Membership dues are tiered by age, ranging from an annual fee of $2,250 with monthly fees of $225 for those under 30 to an annual fee of $4,975 with $450 in monthly fees.
It’s obvious that the Fitler Club was designed to attract the young and hip crowd, but the reality is that its more than 2,000 members reflect the makeup of the city. More than 20% of members are people of color. Couples with children make up a significant part of the membership, and of course, there are the Millennials and Gen Xers.
Devore says the membership is better defined based on factors such as moral, ethical, and political values, and inherent attitudes.
“Our membership is not a demographic, it’s psychographics,” she says. “Members range from their late 20s to their 70s. Age doesn’t seem to matter. We do have a lot of families who live in Center City. Philly is a family-friendly city and we’re a lifestyle club. We program for that.”
This is reflected in the day-to-day interactions among club members and staff. There’s a cordial, convivial, congenial atmosphere. Friendly conversations are everywhere. Obviously, there are business discussions among those in the communal workspace, but people have talked about meeting would-be business associates by bonding as friends first maybe at the bar or during a workout.
It is this interchanging of ideas from a cross-section of society that can help Philadelphia meet its aspirations of being a vibrant, trend-setting city on the international map sooner, rather than later.