A New Social Club in NYC Celebrates the Life of Gossip Columnist and Socialite Elsa Maxwell
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The life of Elsa Maxwell, the 20th century gossip columnist and socialite, is now the decorative backbone of one of New York's newest private social clubs.
Nestled in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood, The Maxwell Social approaches the city's buzzy landscape of membership clubs in a, well, not-so-buzzy way. "The current crop of private members clubs in New York City aren't really true social clubs as much as they are gated restaurants," David Litwak, co-founder of The Maxwell social tells Town & Country. "They're spaces that members join to signal status rather than actually meeting new friends or running into old ones." Alongside his co-founders, Kyle Channing-Pearce and Joelle Fuchs, Litwak sought to offer a space that felt like a second home; one where members can come to truly relax rather than being burdened by social climbing or social climbers. It also helps that only 700 members will be allowed to join.
This is where Elsa Maxwell's legacy comes into play. "In members, we look for serious people who don't take themselves seriously and she was the epitome of that. She'd get high society to dress up in ridiculous costumers, she'd dance in can-can lines, and have trained seals at her parties at the Waldorf Astoria," Litwak says. "She represented a sort of old world grandeur while emphasizing one of our central tenants: entertaining, not entertainment. For her, the person next to you was your entertainment for the evening."
Indeed, Elsa Maxwell was a character. Though she was not born into the aristocracy, her career as a gossip columnist and journalist (beginning as a freelance writer for the New York Dramatic Mirror, a theatre newspaper that existed from 1879-1922) gave her access to that world. She eventually became popular among the upper class for her knack of staging games and entertainment during parties. She is credited to have introduced the scavenger hunt and the treasure hunt as party games in the modern era, and even infamously staged a scavenger hunt in Paris in 1927 that caused disturbances all over the city.
Some historical gossip: During the late '40s and very early '50s, Maxwell was very good friends with Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor. Their friendship began in 1946 when the three were living at the Waldorf Astoria apartments in New York City. The Windsors frequented Maxwell's parties in Monte Carlo, New York and elsewhere, and hosted Maxwell at their chateau on the Riviera.
However, a falling out was first reported in May 1953 and was rumored to have begun at a charity event at which Maxwell deliberately tried to upstage Wallis by inviting her to a party and then getting Marilyn Monroe to make a grand late entrance, diverging all attention away from Wallis.
It is her life as an entertainer, not the notable drama, that is the focus of The Maxwell Social's ethos and design, though. Walking into the social club feels like a home set in the English countryside, or in a rural setting north of New York City fitting for intimate conversation. Wooden floors and paneled wooden-walls serve as the base of the infrastructure, which is further decorated by velvet wingback chairs, plush sofas, and filled book cases. Arhaus outfitted the space with custom artisan upholstery, and Vaughan Design and Mollie Nitzken of Slightly East equipped the garden room's chandeliers. What takes center stage, and what is truly unique compared to new social clubs in New York City, is the emphasis on the Maxwell Social's kitchen. It's not a commercial bar, but rather one where members are encouraged to cook, utilize the JennAir stoves, and host dinner parties.
Adorning the walls of the space are murals by Gracie Wallpapers that depict Elsa Maxwell's life. One features her dancing at parties; others chronicle her time in New York and in Paris. They carry a sort of Where's Waldo essence to them.
"She came from a time where design was a bit more maximalist, a bit more colorful," Litwak says. "We incorporated elements of the Art Deco movement, the Jugenstil movement, and the Arts and Crafts movement that we feel reflect her era, a time when we think interior design was simply more interesting."
For more information or inquires about membership, please visit maxwellsocial.com.
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