Money being invested into dining service, events
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
While the historic Players Club on Gramercy Park has been struggling for the last few years with controversy over financial mismanagement, changes in administration and over $4 million in debt, the new administration has quietly been working on adjusting course to increase revenue and get programming back on track.
The club did not pay off the debt outright, but President Arthur Makar said that they were able to obtain an $8.5 million loan through a single lender and will be using the money to revitalize the club and increase revenue. The loan came from the Terrapin Lending Company, which issues loans to small businesses.
“We were in debt up to our ears,” Makar said. “Through (club treasurer Michael McCurdy’s) good work, we did something that everyone said was impossible to do: find financing to move us forward.”
Town & Village reported in 2014 that the club was considering selling off artwork to deal with some of the debt, including a valuable John Singer Sargent painting of actor Joseph Jefferson, but Makar said the club luckily did not have to resort to this tactic.
“We’re proud we ended up not having to consider selling the Sargent,” said Michael Barra, chair of the the managing committee and executive committee of the Board of Directors. “If the financing hadn’t come through, we would have been in dire straits but we were even able to lend the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They recently returned it so he’s back in the clubhouse where he’ll be for all time. The club has not and will not be selling any of our artwork. It’s not fiscally prudent.”
Barra added that the next step after getting on a better financial footing is bringing in new members.
“Now we feel that all the ducks are lined up for a recruiting drive,” he said. “It’s a little of an ‘if you build it they will come’ situation. We had to build it first and now we’re going after new members. To bring members in, you have to have programming that is compelling so we’re planning to have top tier events happening in the clubhouse all the time.”
Barra added that they’re planning to take the club back to its exclusive roots. While the Players has always been members only, in the last few years the club has opened up occasionally to ticketed events that non-members were able to access, but Barra said they are now hoping to capitalize on the exclusivity and will no longer be seeking out third party events.
“The club is for club members, not for the public,” Barra said. “The doors will tighten quite a bit. That’s something we want to be consistent with.”
Another component to bringing the historic club back to its former glory is overhauling the dining program.
In 2013, the restaurant was graded a C by the Department of Health and while the grade was eventually raised to an A, the grade slipped back down to a B last year due to “evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas” and other issues, according to the DOH. McCurdy noted, however, that the restaurant was allowed to change the sign to “Grade Pending” because while the club corrected the problems, it has no control over when the department comes back to re-grade the establishment.
“One of the first things the new leadership did was shut down food service,” Barra said of the restaurant. “The dining was hemorrhaging money. People weren’t going and health inspection didn’t do well but it’s slowly coming back.”
Barra noted that the banquet business was ongoing and it was only a la carte service that was shut down, but the club recently started rolling out a new dining menu and reinstated a lunch program earlier this week. One of the major changes to make improvements in the dining service was to hire Dennis Paul from the Princeton Club as the new director of food and beverage. Aside from his experience in club management, Barra said that Paul has also encouraged a better relationship with the union staff, where there has been friction for the club in the past.
Ellie Narpier, the current shop steward for the club representing the union staff, agreed that there is now a much better relationship between the union employees and the club than even a couple of years ago.
She noted that the atmosphere started to get better about a year ago but the environment improved even more markedly once the new food and beverage director was in place about four months ago.
“It looks like we’re moving forward,” Narpier said. “The ambience has changed a hundred percent. Sure, things aren’t perfect yet and we’re not completely where we want to be but I know that the direction we’re taking is a positive one.”