The Ace of Clubs
That’s what Mark Twain called New York ‘s famous Lotos Club, which still exists. Founded in 1870 by a group of writers and critics, it seems, back then, to have been a sort of plusher Groucho Club. Its first home was at 2, Irving Place, off 14th Street. The early leading lights were, like Twain, high powered journalists; but before too long, scholars, artists, collectors and connoisseurs had joined the throng. Within two years the Club had outgrown its quarters and had moved to more spacious premises in Fifth Avenue. Here members might live semi-permanently.
Thomas W. Knox (1835 – 96), adventurer, soldier, popular author and journalist, had begun as a teacher, left to join the gold rush and when the Civil War broke out in 1863 was made a colonel in the Californian National Guard, but was invalided out and subsequently became a war correspondent for the New York Herald. He then travelled the world, initially with the Russo-American Telegraph Company, and from the 1880s, when not travelling abroad, had an apartment at the Lotos Club. By 1889, it would appear that he had lost his taste for ‘parties and receptions’. In this letter to fellow journalist Alphonse Miner Griswold, popularly known as ‘The Fat Contributor’, politely declining an invitation, Knox writes that ‘for the past two years and more I have altogether ceased to be a society belle (sic)…I’m nearly always in bed by 11 pm.’
But Knox’s taste for adventure never waned. In 1896, just seven years after writing to Griswold, Knox died at his beloved Lotos Club after returning from the Sahara. He was just 60. Griswold had predeceased him in 1891 aged 57. It must have been all that rich Lotos Club food. The Club is still famed for its Michelin star cuisine.[RH]