Clubbing, 914-style: a look at some local special-interest and hobby clubs
“Clubbing” doesn’t necessarily mean a dark room, a loud DJ, and $15 drinks. In Westchester, there are various clubs to meet almost any interest. Check out our sampling of the groups forming in a Westchester town near you.
By W. Dyer Halpern
Unless you’re named George Thorogood, the notion of drinking alone probably isn’t that enticing. If fact, it might be downright depressing. Worry not, though; Westchester’s got groups of people ready to grab a drink with you on short notice. And it’s not just booze hounds who can find friends with common interests. Here’s a list of clubs in which you can fly, smoke, drive, run, toast, play, bike, hike, and sing with a mike, with friends you haven’t yet even met.
NYC Cigar Co.
Where: Eastchester at the NYC Cigar Co. store (419 White Plains Rd, 914- 346-5286)
When: Monthly for cigar of the month club; daily, especially during football games, for regular gatherings.
What it costs: $1,000 a year for a private membership includes a locker and invitation to a monthly meeting to choose the cigar of the month; $49-$59 for mail-order cigar of the month; free entry with cigar purchase.
Now that all the smoke is gone from Westchester bars and restaurants, where’s a guy (or gal) supposed to go to enjoy a good smoke? The answer: the NYC Cigar Co. Co-owner John J. Cappabianca has created a swanky atmosphere with three flat-screen televisions, full Wi-Fi, leather couches, a poker table, a video poker machine, and an air-filtration system for stogie lovers to gather and puff on some of the finest cigars the Dominican Republic and Jamaica have to offer (indeed, the company owns its own plant in Jamaica which produces five exclusive cigars for the company).
And, talk about a loose atmosphere: Cappabianca claims the biggest problem with cigars these days is that they are “inconsistent” and “rolled too tight,” so Cappabianca hired three Dominican rollers so he could brand his own cigars to make sure such mishaps never occur. And if you have lots of money to burn (sorry), for a mere $1,000 a year, you can put those cigars in your own private locker in the NYC Cigar Co. walk-in humidor, add a swanky nameplate, and show up once a month to help lord over the club’s cigar of the month club, at which members choose which cigar gets sent out to those cheapskates only willing to fork over $49 to $59 a month for their smokes. Now that’s power.
Westchester Contract Bridge Association
Where: Various locations, including the Hartes’ Club (Armenian Church, 1131 North St, White Plains 914-285-1230), and the Bridge Deck (313 Central Ave, Scarsdale 914-949-5853).
What it costs: Prices range from around $8 to $16 per game. Membership in the American Contract Bridge League is $35 a year (though membership is not required to play).
Bored? Tired of playing games online against some unknown Kentuckian whose avatar includes a thatch hat? Well, put up with it no more. Even if you’re scared to join one of the poker clubs that keep getting raided by police throughout the region (we know, young, middle-class, Ivy League grads playing cards are the county’s biggest threat), there are still ways to amuse yourself playing games in person with other people. For example, why not pick up bridge? It’s like the poker of the 20th century. During almost every waking hour, there’s an open seat at a bridge table somewhere in Westchester County. And you’d be shocked at how many people are playing. At the Hartes’ Club in White Plains, more than 50 tables are available for players of all skill ranges starting at 9:30 each morning from Monday through Friday. “We have more than one-hundred-sixty people playing at any one time,” says Hartes’ Club Manager Susan Patricelli. Food is served throughout the day and lessons are offered by some of the nation’s top bridge players to school newbies in the ways of the game. And yes, the age range of members skews a bit old—“I’m forty-two and one of the youngest players,” says owner Alisan Harte, but lines form out the door around noon each day, so if you want to play, or learn how, get there early.
Westchester Sports Car Club
Where: Meetings in Hawthorne; events throughout the county.
When: Board meetings are held monthly to plan the races; events are held several times throughout the year at various places (examples include Orchard Beach, Playland, and the Palisades Shopping Center; and soon in Mount Kisco at the Grand Prix New York Carting Site on 333 North Bedford Rd).
What it costs: $30 a year per person; $45 per couple.
Looking to add a little zoom, zoom, zoom, to your daily routine? Since the 1940s, residents throughout Westchester have been vroom, vroom, vrooming around the county as members of the Westchester Sports Car Club. “It’s the oldest sports car club in the Northeast, and Walter Cronkite was once a member,” declares Treasurer Debbi Kanzler who races in the club. But Cronkite is so last century. The star member of the WSCC now is G.J. Dixon, a Scarsdale resident, who just became national champion of the Chevy-powered Rev It Up 2007 National Driving Competition (he won a Corvette!). This speedy Westchesterite actually defeated professional driver Greg Thek to win the crown.
“I’m still in awe,” says Dixon. For those not seeking to compete on a national level, the WSCC sets up two kinds of races locally. The first, autocrosses, are competitions held in large parking lots where drivers navigate twisted turning courses attempting to be the fastest through a series of cones (each cone knockdown is a two-second penalty). The second is the rally race—driving competitions held on regular streets, where drivers must follow a type of treasure map through the county in a pre-determined time (the club’s “Turkey Tour” is the oldest continually running rally in the U.S.). Kanzler explains that “being a member is about training more than anything else,” and no cars are turned away—drivers of everything from state-of-the-art Jaguars to 1970 MG Midget convertibles show up regularly.
Westchester Track Club
Where: High-level group at Rockefeller Estate or Irvington High School; recreational group at Stepinac High School in White Plains
When: Weekly. High-level group on Tuesdays and Saturdays; recreational group on Wednesdays.
What it costs: $35 a year per person; $45 per family.
We’re not huge fans of running (we prefer, say, sitting), but if you feel you have to hoof it to get your cardio in, running is certainly better when done with friends. But what to do if you can’t get your gang out on the track? Team up with others who share your passion. The Westchester Track Club brings amateurs who don’t like jogging alone together with professionals from all over the world who want to get in the best shape possible to compete in running competitions. Coach Mike Barnow, who coached the 1984 Somalian Olympic team, founded the Westchester Track Club in 1976 and has been luring runners from as far away as Kenya and Ethiopia (including Ethiopian Kassahun Kabiso who was a two-time New York Runner of the Year) to train with him right here in Westchester. “He’ll stand outside with fifteen stopwatches going simultaneously,” says Adrienne Wald, his fiancé and club marketing director. But the club is not just for speedy Kenyans.
“We get up to seventy-five people each week,” explains Wald, “including lawyers, doctors, and kids who are dissatisfied with their school coaches.” The biggest incentive, though, according to Wald, is that “most people just want to be part of a group with a common bond and make friends.”
Westchester Flying Club
Where: Meetings in Armonk; flights from Westchester County Airport.
When: Meetings held monthly; flights can be scheduled daily.
What it costs: Initiation fee of $1,600 ($600 refunded upon exit from the club); $190 monthly fee; flight costs range from $90 an hour to $152 an hour (they vary based on current fuel prices).
Kites are for losers! Real men and women fly airplanes. And now, so can you. The Westchester Flying Club is a 65-member organization with pilots ranging in age from 18 to 65 and in ability from novice to experienced commercial airline professionals. The club owns eight planes, including two Piper Archer Aircrafts, planes Treasurer Marty Lee calls “entry level,” and two Beech Bonanzas, high-performance planes that attract more serious flyers.
Getting a spot on a Westchester Flying Club plane does not require Orbitz or Expedia. And, unlike in the commercial airline industry, you’ll probably be able to get in the air quickly and often (no free Terra Blue Chips, though). Flights can be booked online for any day of the week and, according to Lee, “most members end up in the air for about twenty-five to thirty hours each year.” And, the club’s got heart. “Some of our pilots,” explains Lee, “are members of the Northeast chapter of Angel Flights, “a volunteer organization that flies people with disabilities to places where they can get medical treatment.” Lee himself once flew a patient from East Hampton to Nantucket.
Flight-related lectures are given at the group’s monthly meetings, and further training is available to new pilots by the group’s four licensed instructors. But not all the club’s activity takes place in the air. Once a year, the WFC holds a party on City Island. They recommend you travel there by car.
Westchester Trails Association
Where: Most hikes are organized from the North White Plains train station.
When: Weekends throughout the year
What it costs: $7 a year
In 1923, the Westchester County Department of Recreation started a walking club. Things went swimmingly for more than 30 years. Then one day, as former president Stewart Manville hazily recalls, an older woman in the club complained that she was “tired of taking hikes with children who would desecrate the countryside and pull up wildflowers.” Ouch! So the club went private and tons of children went without exercise.
Still, since the conversion 40 years ago, things have been going well for the club. The club now tailors itself to more serious hikers. Hikers usually meet at 9:30 am near the North White Plains train station parking lot. Hikers then car-pool to various locations around the county and hike for about three to four hours before stopping for lunch. After another two hours, everyone returns back to the station. The hikes vary widely based on how nice the weather is each day and usually between six to 12 people take the walk (though as many as 30 have shown up). And the club has a very democratic bent, letting anyone who wants to plan and lead a hike. The group also does occasional overnight hikes. In case you want to hit the trails alone, the club recommends “the Old Croton Aqueduct and the North and South County Trails.”
Where: West Harrison (Leo Mintzer Community Center, Main Floor—251 Underhill Ave)
When: The first, third, and fifth (if applicable) Tuesdays of the month, from 7:30-9:30pm.
What it costs: One-time fee of $20, then $45 twice a year.
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech,” said Mark Twain. If you have less time, Toastmasters can help. The local branch of Toastmasters International has been helping Westchesterites articulate themselves for more than 50 years. “We have everyone from people in their twenties to people in their seventies,” reports Toastmaster Joice Albert. The way Toastmasters works is that each meeting, four to six people are invited to give a speech on a subject of their choosing. An evaluator then tells the speaker all of the positive things he or she has done and includes one or two things that could be done better. The feedback, Albert explains, “always ends on a positive note.” And for those not involved in the speaking, there are activities planned too. “Each participant is asked a question of which they have no prior knowledge. They are then asked to speak extemporaneously for one to two minutes.”
The club caters to those who not only know how to speak well in public but to those who want to learn how to be more elegantly loquacious when the spotlight is on them.
Westchester Wine Meetup
Where: White Plains (Exact location varies, but primarily at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church—82 Prospect St)
When: Meetings held monthly
What it costs: Initiation fee is $3 and comes with a free glass to be used for tastings.
Who runs Westchester’s premier wine meeting group? Would you believe it’s an Episcopal priest? Father Gawain de Leeuw, who calls himself “a semi-knowledgeable accidental connoisseur” who got into wine because “beer had too many calories,” organizes the monthly meetings of about 30 wine lovers who want to learn about, and sample, wines from around the world. More than 400 people are members of the online organization, which was started by wine-importer David Baer three years ago. But what makes this a wine club, and not just another excuse to get a little ferschnickered, is that at each meeting, guests are asked to bring a wine that matches a theme. Past themes have included Chilean Roses or wines that are estate-bottled (as opposed to those bottled by big distributors). Some members then take turns sipping and learning from Baer about the different reds and whites brought for the evening. And the WWM has field trips. The group has visited vineyards throughout the region and has traveled to the Prospero Winery in Pleasantville on multiple occasions. And lest you think that a club run by an Episcopal priest is boring, think again. Father de Leeuw’s got, how should we say, spunk. He is looking to enlist other local clubs to hold crossover nights, and is hoping to soon meet up with the local Salsa dancing club for a evening of drinking and dancing in White Plains.
Westchester Cycle Club
When: Meetings are held monthly; Rides are held weekly, mostly April through November.
What it costs: $20 for an electronic newsletter; $25 for a printed newsletter.
Tom Cochrane said it best: “Life is a highway; I want to ride it all night long.” Well, in Westchester, we have more parkways for the riding than highways, and usually we ride in the day, and Cochrane may have been speaking metaphorically, but all the same, the Westchester Cycle Club has certainly embraced the idea of riding all the time.
Started in 1975 as an offshoot of the New York Cycle Club, the Westchester Cycle Club organizes between five and 30 people each week for bike rides throughout the county. Members of the club span the ages from 20 to 80, and trails chosen similarly span the range of difficulties from A (hard) to D (easy). As Bruce Wells, membership chairman of the club explains, “Westchester has some of the best road riding in the area. We have lots of long, twisty roads, covered in second-generation forest to provide lots of shade.”
Organized rides usually run from three to five hours and include the popular “Friday Flings” and “Wednesday Flings,” during which all bikers go out on different routes but end up at a common location to share dinner. More adventurous bikers will appreciate the 200-mile ride to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on which club members embark yearly. And food fans will enjoy the City Island Seafood ride, or other special rides held each month, in which, “riding is only half the fun.”
Other Clubs Worth Checking Out
Westchester Kennel Club
What: For those who want to help put together the annual Lyndhurst Dog Show.
Web: No website (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
What: To provide members information about “advocacy efforts, group rides, projects, and general information on the state of bicycling in our area.”
Hudson Valley Ski Club
What: A group of individuals dedicated to the promotion of recreational skiing for the benefit of its members.
Westchester Triathlon Club
What: A group of people devoted to training for and racing in triathlons.
Petanque Club of Westchester
What: A group of friends in Northern Westchester who love to play petanque (a game in which the goal is to throw metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball).
The Westchester Movie Fans Meetup Group
What: A group of people interested in watching and discussing movies together.
Web: movies.meetup.com (then type your zipcode)