Doubles bubble

A social club beloved by well-bred New York aristocrats celebrates its 40th birthday in spite of changing tastes

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At a time when New York’s elite is losing many of their most beloved institutions (Swifty’s, the Four Seasons restaurant, the Palm and 740 Park Avenue’s façade), an unlikely bastion of the well-to-do is celebrating its 40th anniversary with refreshing confidence and vim.

In a windowless basement room below Central Park’s famed Sherry Netherland building, Doubles, a private social club, observed its fourth decade in true Upper East Side fashion: a jubilant black-tie dinner with live music and dancing.

Opened in 1976 by Sherry Netherland resident Joe Norban, the club was named after the doubling cube used for betting in backgammon, a game that was enjoying renewed popularity at the time. From its inception, Doubles was different from any other Upper East Side club. Yes, the old money was there, as were the white-gloved waiters and dry martinis. But unlike the stuffier Knickerbocker or Union clubs, you were never in any danger of stumbling upon a paunchy old man having a nap after a fat cigar. Doubles was and is a blue-blooded disco with a mirrored dance floor and deep red walls.

“Doubles is elegant and consistent,” says Bonnie Comley, a three-time Tony Award-winning producer, vice president of Stellar Productions International and a club member. “The food, decor and service is always great. It is a quiet oasis under a bustling city.”

A nostalgic 1970s vision of upscale sex
and glamour lives on.

“Doubles is about fun and civility,” Wendy Carduner, a life-long Sherry Netherland resident, daughter of the founder and general manager of the club, tells me a week after its anniversary festivities. As I sip San Pellegrino on the crocodile leather banquet near the bar at Doubles, I reflect upon the good manners I’ve encountered during my visits to the club. The “haven’t we met befores” from perfect strangers. The generous smiles rarely encountered in New York, except when contracts are being signed. The way my dinner companions paused their tête-à-tête to include a newcomer.

“It’s also very sexy,” Carduner says.

The entrance to Doubles is sealed behind two large doors in the lobby of the Sherry Netherland. Beyond the doors, members and their guests descend a narrow and romantically lit staircase done up in a deep red (some called it “deep throat” when the club originally opened). Inside, the club’s dark-red walls and leather seating give one the feeling of having slipped inside a lady’s lingerie drawer. 

It’s a 1970s vision of upscale sex and glamour, a nostalgic haven for New York aristocrats who are being replaced by irreverent new money.

Carduner says she has been militant about preserving the club’s dress code, even for the children who take over the club on special kids nights. “The boys love dressing up for the girls,” Carduner says. And it’s that focus on the next generation — despite some of its affectionately dated fixtures — that has kept Doubles alive through economic ups and downs and changing tastes.

Today, Doubles has grown to roughly 1,600 members, each personally interviewed by Carduner and recommended by members who understand her commitment to politesse. “Doubles is here 40 years later,” Carduner says, “because of the connections people make here. Many of our members have two or three homes and can only visit a few times a year, but they maintain their memberships.”