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From VIP to You and Me

From VIP to You and Me

Inside Saratoga Springs’ inclusively exclusive new club

A cozy booth beckons at The Coat Room | Photo Credit: The Coat Room

Private, members-only clubs have long held a special kind of allure for a certain segment of society. They come in many forms: the Lilly Pulitzered, Bellini-swigging country clubs; the Puppets and Puppets-accoutered, mixology-obsessed urban clubs for creatives; the academic clubs with their tinkle of whiskey on rocks in crystal, crackling fireplaces, and mounted stag heads… 

There’s a type of club that will appeal to everyone who’s anyone, or at least so the thinking has gone for centuries. That presumption has started to feel a bit creaky in recent years, as a more democratic, let’s-bring-more-seats-to-the-table, unity-in-diversity vibe has influenced the zeitgeist. 

In Saratoga Springs, N.Y.—with a population of 28,000 that more than triples during the horse-racing season, and a gilded history as a health resort and gambling center for the rich and fabulously debauched—an interesting thought experiment called The Coat Room has emerged. It’s a place that exudes a distinct club vibe and offers special perks to people who decide to become members, but is also open to any and all comers. 

“We wanted to create a place with incredible food and drinks, special amenities for preferred guests, and an open-door policy for guests who need a space to work and have meetings during the day,” says Danny Cohen, a partner in The Coat Room, along with hospitality and design veterans Peter Rosencrans, Mike Phinney, Michael Sollohub, and Thomas Newkirk. “We had a vision for a place with preferred access, but still open to the public.”

The concept is admittedly a tightrope, Cohen says. And, after opening in the Spring of 2023, he says they are still tinkering with the formula. 

“When we started the preferred guest program, we opened it out to friends and family first,” Cohen explains, declining to share the current or grandfathered rate. “Most of our preferred guests are entrepreneurs and business leaders, so having a space where they can have meetings during the day is key. Formal and informal networking events are also important.”

The Coat Room is situated at the former site of one of the first luxury hotels in the region, the United States Hotel, in a town that made its name for attracting the world’s business behemoths and corruptors alike. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Cornelius Vanderbilt are among the titans who shaped and were shaped by Saratoga Springs, while John Morrisey and Richard Canfield turned the town into the “Monte Carlo of America” via gambling houses in the 19th century. During Prohibition, the town became a linchpin in the notorious bootleg trail that ran from Canada to New York City. 

From the get-go, the team wanted to pay homage to that mixed legacy, while presenting a modern face. The space – all gleaming brass, glimmering walnut, midnight black steel, lush fabrics, leather, and wall coverings – was designed by partner Michael Phinney’s award-winning Phinney Design Group. It’s grand, but also warm; aspirational, yet still cozy.

Good Taste Is Foundational

Vacation in Vermont at the Coat Room | Photo Credit: The Coat Room

Good taste—literally, and metaphorically—is foundational to everything that happens at the Coat Room. 

Many of the amenities for preferred guests are secret winks of appreciation that only the preferred guests will even know exist, Cohen explains. 

“They get special wines and there is a cocktail for our preferred guests,” says Cohen. 

Justin LaViolette, who started out as the beverage director, and is now general manager, explains that the cocktail and wine list reflects the Coat Room’s exclusive-but-not-exclusionary paradigm. 

“Our cocktails are really culinarily minded, and I work with the entire staff to create them,” LaViolette says, adding that he gets the bar staff together, and has them draw words out of martini glasses to inspire the process. “Some will be flavors, like ‘cinnamon.’ Others will be ideas, like ‘cozy’ or ‘Christmas.’ And some will be really specific, like ‘sage foam.’”

LaViolette has each staff member take their chosen word, and build a cocktail around it. 

“On the menu, we try to highlight the flavors, and not the brands,” LaViolette adds. “Because the spirit we choose is going to be, for us, about the flavor, not the name.”

The result? Delicious whimsy. Think candied Yam martinis, with pumpkin purée, salted brown sugar, marshmallow foam, and vodka; “Vacation in Vermont,” with basil, lemon, egg white foam, and gin. 

The wine list is equal parts esoteric and deeply familiar. 

“We’ve got the mainstays like Sea Smoke and Kistler, but then we also have Cliff Lede and Alto Moncayo, which fewer people know about,” he says. “Our goal is to feature notable drinks that are worth knowing about, whether a few or a lot of people do.”

The food is also focused on flawlessly executed rarefied comfort, and the menu shifts considerably, depending on the availability of local products. 

“I was considering retirement, but after talking to Mike [Phinney], I realized what a unique opportunity this was,” says executive chef Dominic Colose. “At a lot of classic restaurants, there’s a drive to cut costs, but here there is a lot more freedom to pursue quality and excellence.”

The results are at once nostalgic and familiar, while also envelope-pushing. Small plates, like warm Camembert studded with roasted grapes, a confetti toss of spicy arugula, and a drizzle of black currant balsamic, served with crisp-spiced crostini, is the girl dinner nachos you never knew you needed. 

Everything that can be made in-house is, including the hand-stretched dough for the decadent pizzas topped with heavenly ingredient combinations like mushrooms with shallot cream and black truffle shavings, and the tagliatelle in craggy, umami Bolognese sauce with shaved Parmesan and ribbons of fresh, springy basil. 

Design aesthetic at The Coat Room | Photo Credit: The Coat Room

Colose created a seasonal, locally-sourced menu for the Coat Room’s dinner service, but also for the breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch, and special events menus that cater (but aren’t exclusive) to the preferred guests. 

“Our dinners and brunches are the most popular times for both preferred guests and others, but we’ve been surprised by how popular the lunch and breakfast are,” Cohen says. “We offer a continental breakfast that is complimentary to preferred guests, so many of them come in here to have meetings or just work at their laptops. But we offer table service to other guests, and our lunch service actually brings in a lot of foot traffic, even in winter.”

Ah, winter, Saratoga’s dreaded “off season.” Many businesses in Saratoga get the vast majority of their revenue during the summer horse-racing season. When the track is open, rockers and the New York City Ballet swoop into the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and a party atmosphere pervades the entire town. 

“Managing the track season and balancing it with a healthy business the rest of the year was one of the main reasons we designed the preferred guest program,” Cohen explains. “We wanted to create a place that felt like a truly private, special place year-round. Saratoga is special because it is itself exclusive, but welcoming at the same time.”

Preferred guest amenities, meanwhile, are still being rolled out. Located on the first floor of an apartment building designed by the Phinney Group, there is already special access to events, as well as free breakfast, a gym, a rooftop deck, and private conference rooms. Coming soon: valet parking, a concierge service (they’re the people to call the next time Taylor Swift comes to town), access to rare and highly allocated wines and spirits, a private library and lounge, a pool, and access to overnight stays in suites. 

Other Zeitgeist-y Avenues of Pleasure

If these clubs would have you as a member, do not pull a Groucho Marx.

The Liberator: Annabel’s in London was created by British entrepreneur Mark Birley in 1963, and is considered by many to be the O.G. club for people who aren’t fans of clubs. Even the Queen (yes, that one) paid a visit to this four-floor complex offering restaurants, multiple bars, a cigar lounge, and performance space where boundary bounders like Ella Fitzgerald and Lady Gaga have performed. 

For Health Enthusiasts: Aman Resorts has 30 properties in 20 countries—including one on 57th Street in New York City that has 83 rooms, a three story spa, and a jazz club. Members include Bill Gates and the Kardashian family. The dizzying $200,000 annual fee gives members access to the club, plus art, fashion, and sports events across the world. Aman is focused on nutrition, health, and fitness, and creates programs for members on and off property.

Culture Vultures: At CORE, the usual trappings of club life—dress codes, an allergy to electronics—are tossed out the window in this uber-mod iteration with locations in New York, San Francisco, and Milan. It’s $50,000 to join, and $15,000 every year after (and you’ll need a recommendation from a current member). This hidden club (there is literally a secret entrance in New York), includes a gym, spa, salon, health bar, theater, dining room, and more. Kenneth Cole, Patti Smith, and Roger Waters are reportedly members, drawn to the hip, art-nerd cultural experiences and special events access the club also provides.