By Gayatri Bhaumik
Jul 21, 2021
STEPPING INTO CARLYLE & CO. is a transcendent experience, with Mid-century furnishings and a soundtrack of classic jazz offering sly nods to a bygone era. I feel like I’ve been whisked from modern-day Hong Kong to a New York I like to think existed in the early 20th century—but with a contemporary twist, naturally. Appropriate, since this new private members’ club is inspired by the legendary Carlyle hotel in New York.
Since the 1930s, The Carlyle has been a beacon of eclecticism, sophistication and culture. It’s where the Kennedy brothers hung out with Marilyn Monroe; where Truman Capote and Hunter S. Thompson found inspiration at the bottom of a bottle; and where, more recently, the Clooneys hob-nob with Jack Nicholson and Mick Jagger. The Hong Kong version offers a similar atmosphere, albeit without the Hollywood star power—for now, at least.
Sprawled across 2,300 square meters and three floors atop the Rosewood Hong Kong building, Carlyle & Co. has space aplenty, and within, a wealth of experiences to discover. For the New York original, interior designer Dorothy Draper created an exuberant, colorful design scheme. For the Hong Kong iteration, Ilse Crawford of Studioilse has built a bold aesthetic that pays homage to the New York design but retains a sense of modernity—think seating by Mangiarotti and Bellini, dramatic chandeliers by Piet Hein Eek, and whimsical murals by Jean Philippe Delhomme.
Thanks to the deft design, each space boasts a distinct feeling and is fit for different purposes. Over my stay, I see members playing mahjong in the Games Room, curling up with books in the Library (there are more than 2,000 titles), and conversing over drinks on the rather gorgeous Terrace.
Explore further, and you’ll find other touches that add a certain je ne sais quoi to the club. I peek into the barbershop and tailor run by Selvedge Barbers and The Armoury respectively, two well-known names in Hong Kong, and am tempted to watch the UEFA Euros football semi-finals in the Music Room which features whizz-bang technology and more than 1,000 records. The pièce-de-résistance, though, is Café Carlyle, a beautifully rendered version of the infamous New York supper club, which will host live music performances when government restrictions allow.
Then there’s the Bar, which specializes in craft cocktails. “There are a few signature cocktails I find myself ordering, but the one I keep coming back to is our special Bemelmans Martini,” Rosewood Hotel Group CEO Sonia Cheng tells me. Fair warning: this decadent tipple comes as a double serve—it’s dangerous, so maybe stick to just the one.
For lunch and dinner, I head to the Brasserie, where waist-coated staff serve up delectable American classics and modern dishes. The smoked watermelon carpaccio is a revelation—who knew fruit could be smokey?— while the steak tartare and chicken parma are delightfully satisfying. Clearly, indulgence is the goal here. “Any semblance of my diet is forgotten when I’m dining at the club,” Cheng admits. “But I will say the Katz pastrami Reuben sandwich is hard to resist!” Well, yeah, that’s no surprise when the sandwich features the actual, authentic Katz Deli meat flown in from the New York City diner of that famous When Harry Met Sally scene.
Evenings at Carlyle & Co. are meant to be a little debauched. That’s why the club boasts eight bedrooms—each named for a famous personality linked to The Carlyle—that guests can check into at the end of the night. Certainly, after a long evening, it’s a relief to retreat to the pied-a-terre that is the Ludwig room.
An homage to Ludwig Bemelman, creator of the Madeline children’s books character and a regular of the New York club, the room features books and objets d’art related to Bemelman, including an original New Yorker magazine from the 50s with his art on the cover. Rendered in earthy shades and green tones, the room is cozy, well-appointed, and full of creature comforts. The living room is separated from the bedroom by a hefty shelving unit, and there’s a well-equipped cocktail bar area. The only thing missing is a bathtub in the marble bathroom—there’s a shower instead—but the incredible harbor views make up for it.
Many private members’ clubs pay lip service to the idea of community, so I’m surprised to see Carlyle & Co. take it so seriously. “What sets Carlyle & Co. apart is its unique, handpicked member community,” Cheng says. “Instead of the conventional differentiators like profession, age, industry or gender, our community is curated by people’s personalities, their stories, and—most importantly—their attitude.” Indeed, I saw a very diverse member population at the club, ranging from older ladies who lunch and businessmen to young creatives and bon vivants.
To build its community, Carlyle & Co. hosts regular member events. During my visit, I attend a session on digital art and mindfulness by local artist Desmond Leung. It’s a refreshingly intellectual experience—though not pompous—and members are actively engaged, asking questions throughout and staying to talk to the artist. A notable point of difference here is that members seem to be open-minded and willing to mingle with members they don’t know.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Carlyle & Co., but it’s the kind of place that works itself under your skin until you can’t help but enjoy it. Perhaps it’s because it captures the essence of the New York original without becoming a parody of itself. Or maybe it’s because you could spend the whole day here, going from morning meetings and remote-work afternoons to drinks on the Terrace and lavish dinners. It may even be its myriad experiences and sense of community. In any case, Carlyle & Co. is a unique proposition among Hong Kong’s members’ clubs, and one that’s sure to appeal to many.