Salmon, Sherry and Tradition

Few undergraduates ever step inside the Faculty Club, the Georgian building tucked between the Barker Center and the Carpenter Center at 20 Quincy Street.

If you are lucky enough to have a professor who will take you to lunch there today, you will dine on Moroccan chicken stew, Beef Wellington with oyster trilogy and fresh fruit crisp.

Less than 20 years ago, your entree choices would have been less haute cuisine. Not only would you have found more traditional meat-and-potatoes fare, but you could have sat down for a big, juicy horsemeat steak. First served during the World War II food rationing programs, horsemeat steak lingered on the Faculty Club menu until the late 1970s. Professors still recall the dish fondly.

"Horsemeat is a rather sweet meat," says Dean K. Whitla, associate director of admissions, who tried the steaks before they were phased out. "I thought it was actually quite nice."

Clearly, change comes slowly to the Harvard Faculty Club, a monument to the Ivory Tower where long-time professors and administrators gather to drink sherry and talk shop in green velvet armchairs. Little seems to have changed since the Club was built in 1929.

Only the rerouting of Harvard Square traffic in the late 1970s--which made it too difficult for the horsemeat delivery truck to reach the Club--finally removed the dish from the menu, says server supervisor Larry C. Sullivan.

Originally open only to dues-paying faculty and staff of the University, declining membership forced the Club to open its doors to all Harvard professors, officers and alumni. Today it is financed entirely by fees charged for services from meals to alumni membership. In addition, the Club rents out rooms for Bar Mitzvahs and wedding receptions when it is not booked for Harvard events.

Portrait of a Bygone Era

The Club moves slowly at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. A few guests drink coffee under 18th-century oil portraits in the ground floor Reading Room. A buffet is spread on a large table in one of the three main dining rooms, where breakfasters sit beside potted palm trees.

There are many empty chairs in the first-floor dining rooms. Most of the 600-700 people who use the Club each day are professors and staff who live elsewhere, and weekday lunches are by far its most important function.

The Club is more then just an eating establishment: breakfasters include overnight visitors who stay in the third-floor bedrooms, and participants in committee meetings held in the second-floor conference rooms. The rooms above the more public first floor are furnished with the same attention to detail.

"All the rooms are differently appointed," says General Manager Heinrich A. Lutjens, who has been at the Club since 1990.

Apart from the television, clock radio, pants presser, wet bar, complimentary bottled water and chocolate truffles, no two bedrooms are the same. Some are hung with botanical prints from the Museum of Natural History, others with watercolor paintings.

The meeting rooms are mostly decorated with engravings, many rented from the Natural History Museum. One room is hung entirely with prints of birds, another with botanical prints, and another with etchings of Algonquin Indians. Black-and-white photographs of sports teams from decades past line the second-floor hallway.

Attention to Detail