The grandeur of The Players at Gramercy Park South’s brownstone townhouse facade with its Renaissance-style wrought iron working gas lanterns is striking, but not intimidating. This is one of the few remaining New York private clubs – which are endangered – that is welcoming, approachable, and outgoing. Maybe I’m biased because I have been a member for five years.
This club is well-known for its history. The ghosts of the club include Edwin Booth and Stanford White, Helen Hayes, James Cagney, Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt and Mark Twain. You are stepping into the club’s history since its inception, not just into the 19th century. Cagney, during a heated debate, rapped on the table at the Grill and cracked it. Multiple portraits of cultural icons are displayed, from Booth and Twain to Jimmy Fallon and Martha Plimpton. Actors Equity formed in the office that is next to The Library. The Booth Apartment has a skull that Sinatra used to play Hamlet.
Booth, the most prominent American actor of his era, was the founder of the club. He is best known for his interpretations Richard III and Hamlet. Actors were, despite their success and fame, not widely respected back then. They were seen as untrustworthy and disreputable. Booth wanted to create an environment where theater artists and others could meet with people from other professions and receive the same respect and respect. He purchased the townhouse in 1888 and founded The Players with Stanford White and Mark Twain. White transformed the building’s interior into an elegant private club. Booth kept a tiny, one-room apartment, which he used for his daughter and himself. It has been preserved exactly the way it was when Booth lived there. That’s the place where I mentioned the skull. It’s also a story about a man who was condemned and had seen Booth’s father perform. Let’s just say that he lost his head over Booth’s family talent.
The Players is a historic landmark, but it’s not a boring place. The Players is the place to go to for a drink, a canoodle and a carouse. It was used as a speakeasy during Prohibition. There was a basement wall that separated Players from the National Arts Club adjacent. The opening allowed for raids on both clubs to be quickly dispatched to the other club. The Grill downstairs has a warm and friendly atmosphere. If you want to sit with a member at one the communal tables, they will tell you not to ask permission. Just sit down and say hello. The club is considered a second home by many members. It is a thriving community for theatre, film, and television artists as well as visual artists and musicians.
Eddie Castillo is the head bartender at The Players. This is another reason why The Players is my favorite place for drinking. Eddie has been in the club for 23+ years and I am sure he has at most one good story to share with us. Eddie will not break the code of silence – no dice. It seems that Players is the place where all that happens stays in Players. That’s great news. For my money, he also makes the best Manhattan in town. Eddie pours the cocktail to the rim of the glass. This requires me to bend down to take a sip and not spill it. This little choreography I call “The Labrador Retriever”. Eddie pours generously and continues to refill my glass each time I take one sip. It can take me a while to finish the glass before I am able to carry it to the table.
I asked him his favorite cocktail. I ask him about his favorite cocktail. It is the classic Martini. It is an elegant drink. “Martini” is gin – not vodka. Eddie’s recipe uses Gordon’s gin with 1/2 ounce of Martini & Rossi Extra dry vermouth. Stirred, not shaken. You can garnish with olives or a twist depending on your taste.
So I enjoy a Eddie’s Martini, enjoying the festive atmosphere at The Players. It is my favorite place to drink because of its history, camaraderie and beauty.