There are many kinds of clubs: the Club Sandwich; the 4-H Club; the club wielded by barbarians. There is, however, only one Harvard Faculty Club.
Founded in 1929--on the eve of the Great Depression--The Harvard Faculty Club, at 20 Quincy St., accomplishes more for the University than simply feeding faculty in an exclusive setting (although it does that quite well indeed). The Club is the gastronomic link that brings together Harvard's greatest minds under one roof, providing a venue for members of Harvard's diverse galaxy of faculties to commune and cross-pollinate their ideas as they partake of tender victuals.
The Club's philosophy is, and has always been, to provide a desirable watering hole where the faculty can dine and socialize at a reasonable cost. "Our program is to offer good, wholesome food to the faculty and their guests, as a way to create a community of faculty and staff at Harvard," says Sally H. Zeckhauser, vice president for administration.
Harvard's is a plum among the nation's cornucopia of faculty clubs. According to Charles (Chuck) Coulson, general manager emeritus, The Faculty Club is ranked among the top few in the nation in surveys of cuisine, architecture and ambiance. The building is situated in a sylvan island, nestled between the Freshman Union and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Upon venturing into the Club from the regal front entrance, a regal visitor walks through a regal entry foyer, where, more often than not, a student is pounding out a melody on a regal grand piano. A curved stairway leads up to the second floor, where daintily appointed meeting rooms play host to scores of organizations. The reading room--which houses an impressive collection of magazines and books--is situated to the left. If, on a winter's night, a traveler were to cast her gaze towards the right, she would likely espy the many rooms of the main dining area. Said dining area is decorated in the rococo style, with sturdy tables and chairs providing a much-needed visual respite from the ornate chandeliers and rugwork.
Lunch is the Club's busiest meal--manyprofessors, one assumes, choose to breakfast andsup elsewhere. The majority of offerings mimicthose available in many an American restaurant:chicken cutlets, turkey burgers, reuben sandwichesand their culinary ilk.
Like any self-respecting faculty club, TheHarvard Faculty Club is neither business norrestaurant. It is just as integral to theUniversity as, say, Widener Library, or thefantastic network of steam tunnels. The clubexists only to serve its members.
The Club's top priority is to integrate thefaculty; making money is an afterthought. You see,at The Faculty Club, quality precedes profit."When I was hired in 1958," Coulson says, "theadministration wondered how I would be willing towork in an atmosphere when I'm told not to make aprofit," (Ed: In his 25-year tenure, he managedjust fine.)
Membership is limited to professors andofficers of the University, plus some retirees."We're not here for the public," say Heinrich A.Lutjens, general manager of The Faculty Club. Forcomparison's sake, Lutjens likens The Faculty Clubto its next-door neighbor, the Freshman Union, aswell as to house dining halls. "[The Club] is justlike Harvard Dining Services--it's not open to thepublic, it's for the students."
As for the Club's inaccessibility to students,Lutjens notes that any member can sponsor anynon-member as his or her guest. In this way, hesays, the club is open to everyone. "All you haveto do is ask any officer or member of the faculty,'Would you sponsor me at the club?' and I'm surethey'll do that. Anybody can come."
Moreover, according to Lutjens, alumni who havegraduated within the past six years can enroll inthe club for $60 per annum. Seniors can sign up inthe spring and receive a membership card onCommencement Day--what better way to commemorateone's entry into the company of educated men andwomen?
Some 15-old years ago, the administrationconsidered broadening that Club's constituency,but philosophical and logistical constraintsprevented it. "There was some talk... that theclub would be open to all students," says Coulson."But that would undermine the whole mission. Ibelieve the Club ought to be a club." Zeckhauseradds, "I don't think we can accommodate any morepeople. We just couldn't take any more, and if wedid, we'd be displacing our primary audience."
In spite of the Club's exclusivity, itsofferings are legion. On a busy day, the Clubfeeds some 600 hungry souls--now that's a lot ofpeople. The Theater Room in basement serves aninformal buffet luncheon, and guest bedrooms onthe third floor provide housing for guest bedroomson the third floor provide housing for guests ofthe University, at $115 per night. For mostobservers, however, the Faculty Club is synonymouswith the main dining room, on the ground floor,where breakfast, lunch and dinner are servedamidst the buzz of star faculty and the aura of YeOlde Harvard.
Culinary diversity is the hallmark of TheHarvard Faculty Club dining experience. "I thinkfor a place like this, just like the dining hallswhere students eat, it's nice to have somevariety. So it needs to change, and we're changingit all the time," Lutjens says. The menu isradically revamped every quarter. "Because thesame people use us, if the items are not changing,it would be horrible. They'd get tired of it."
The main influences on the Club's change, saysLutjens, stem from "keeping an open ear to seewhat our members want." To this end, themanagement periodically experiments withintriguing entrees. "We put new items on the menuand ask people if they like them: too spicy or toobland or too much or not enough. It's like whatMichael Berry does. What most people like--that'swhat goes on the menu. The chef and I just can'tmake a decision and say, 'Okay, from now on, we'regoing to have frogs' legs and rattlesnake on themenu and that's what people are going to eat.'They may not like that."
Lutjens came to the United States in 1965. Hewas born in Germany and worked in Switzerland,England, the Middle East and elsewhere, before thearrived in Houston. He joined the staff of TheFaculty Club three years ago. To improve the Club,he recruited a high-caliber chef and created theexecutive chef position, so that more time anddirection could be focused on the menu. The Club'scurrent chef, Takashi Shiramizu, trained in Japan,France and England (England). Under hisheart-smart auspices, portions are smaller, andthey emphasize vegetables and fish.
Some Calls it House Steak
In many ways, The Faculty Club is lessstately and more raucous than outsiders mightexpect. Take, for example, a sordid tale from itsrecent past. "We had an Era of Horse Steak,beginning in the 1940s, which is always infamous,"Coulson says. During World War II, standard redmeats--beef, pork, veal, lamb, etc.--became hardto come by, and the Club increasingly had to relyon alternative ingredients.
Hence the horse meat.
When the war ended, and with it the rationing,horse meat was removed from the menu. "Theeconomists and others had enjoyed the good,inexpensive horse meat," Coulson says. "And theyasked, 'Where's our horse meat, where's our horsemeat?' So the Club put it back on the menu. It wasthere when I arrived in 1958. A lot of peopleenjoyed it; it's better than venison, I would saythat."
A delectable and patriotic treat, yes. But whatwould Mr. Ed have said?
Coulson recounts another ignominious chapter inthe horse meat saga. Purveyors of horse meatdelivered shipments a few times a year, but their18-wheelers were too bulky to negotiate thestreets of Cambridge. "So they'd call me and saystreets of Cambridge. "So they'd call me and say'We're up at the packing house in Lynn.' So I'd goup in my car and watch this big trailer truckunloading all this horse meat--big barrels ofstuff rolling down the conveyor belt--and a coupleof small boxes marked 'Faculty Club'.
"I was talking to the guy that was running it,and I said, 'My God, all that meat comes out.' Iasked, 'Who uses all this meat?', and he said,'Well, there's three places in the Boston area whouse our horse meat: the zoo, the dog track and TheHarvard Faculty Club."
The Loooooooong Table
At the far end of the main diningroom resides a piece of furniture that has been afixture of the club since its inception on the eveof the Great Depression--a large, rectangulartable dubbed "the Long Table." In theory, the LongTable provides general seating for individuals whoarrive without guests. Instead of dining alone,members can meet new people and discuss theirideas, in the true spirit of the Club.