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The Duquesne Club: An exclusive retreat for the corporate elite

| Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011

Without a doubt, The Duquesne Club is the most famous private club in Pittsburgh. It's the definition of an English gentlemen's club and speaks of taste, privilege and power. With a rich history dating back to 1873, it puts the old in "old boys' network" and "old money."

Legend has it that in the 1890s, when Pittsburgh was known as Iron City, more pig iron was made at the bar of The Duquesne Club than in Pittsburgh's seven furnaces. Titans of the day, Andrew and Thomas Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, H.J. Heinz, Henry Oliver, George Westinghouse, Benjamin Jones and Henry Phipps, talked business and dined in splendor here.

"Members are inspired by the spirit of the club's industrial giants of the past. Where history was made and continues to be made;" says club president Dr. Ken Melani, president/CEO of Highmark, "where private luncheons still determine the course of local, national and global corporations."

Indeed, the club's reputation for doing things right and doing the right things may explain why managers of 6,000 private clubs rated it the Best City Club in America for 12 consecutive years.

The handsome brownstone clubhouse in the heart of the Golden Triangle was designed by Longfellow (nephew of the poet), Alden and Harlow between 1887-89 when "gentlemen found that not their home but their club was their true castle." Surrounded by works of art that were donated by members, they could smoke cigars, meet friends, play billiards, enjoy fine food and Monongahela rye whiskey without rubbing shoulders with ordinary mortals.

Though the moose heads and spittoons are gone -- and so are the cigars --the Old World ambience remains. Today, 2,500 members partake of the imposing billiards room, squash courts and five-star fitness center where they can be rich and thin together. Women were first welcomed as guests at the Ladies Cocktail Bar in 1934, but not as members until 1980. Yet, in this age of egalitarianism, the Club has thrived as has its art collection that most small museums would trade their marble columns for. It boasts a curator, published catalog, docent-led tours and distinguished Art Society in charge of new acquisitions.

There's the Edwardian grandeur of the Reading Room where one can sink into a comfortable wingback chair, take coffee or tea and pore over stock market quotes. The most popular gathering spot for cocktails is the smashing paneled library. All the books extol Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania history and the walls are lined with canvases by major Pittsburgh satirist David Gilmour Blythe. A superb example of the Art Deco period is the Main Dining Room, the scene of our town's most lavish weddings and parties.

The kitchen has achieved urban-legend status under the whisk of star chef Keith Coughenour. He has raised the bar on power dining in the tony Duquesne Room and the six other a la carte dining rooms. Famous for its macaroons, the kitchen turns out -- by hand -- 1,500-2,000 of the temptations daily!

Cell phones and laptops• Banished from all public areas and restricted to private dining rooms. Club policy is that all business documents must be examined or discussed behind closed doors, a tradition of the upper-crusty English clubs "where it was considered unseemly to be seen actually working." So it is that the club maintains 45 posh corporate suites. As well as 42 quietly decorated overnight rooms. None other than Buffalo Bill Cody and Gen. William T. Sherman have signed the guest registry, to say nothing of a long list of American Presidents and European royalty.

"Members are the most important part of our organization. We have numerous generations of families and leaders from the world over in all types of businesses," says general manager Scott Neill. "Many regard membership as quite an accomplishment in their career." Indeed, belonging to The Duquesne Club confers a measure of prestige and status on members. Notwithstanding a legion of tenured, impeccably trained and friendly staffers likely to know you by name.

Membership is by invitation only. Those interested in joining this nexus of power players must be recommended by existing members.

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