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The Pendennis Club is a private club in Louisville, Kentucky. It was established in 1881 and modeled in part on English gentlemen's clubs. It took its name from William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Pendennis (1848–50). The first clubhouse, acquired in 1883, was a former Belknap family mansion. Soon after opening, a banquet was held to entertain President Chester A. Arthur on August 1, 1883, the same day he opened the Southern Exposition. Sometime in the 1880s, the club was the birthplace (by name, not invention) of the Old Fashioned, possibly the first mixed drink to be called a cocktail.
A famous employee was Henry Bain, who during his forty-year career rose to headwaiter. He is the eponym of Henry Bain sauce. Roland Hayes, popularly said to be Bain's nephew, and considered the first African-American male concert artist to receive wide international acclaim, made his professional debut at the club in 1910.
Club membership was long open only to whites, although that policy has been relaxed (the club also has a handful of female members). However, the image of an elite, restricted club still is common in the minds of Louisvillians. In 1999 it was one of several private clubs named in a discrimination lawsuit, and was eventually forced to turn over its membership records, though no investigation was ever conducted by the state Human Rights Commission. In 2006, club officials said there had been black members for several years.
Modern clubhouse in Downtown Louisville
|Architect||Nevin, Wischmeyer and Morgan; Wortham Construction Company|
|Architectural style||Colonial Revival|
|NRHP reference #||03001225 |
|Added to NRHP||December 4, 2003|
In 1928, a new clubhouse was built a block east of the old one, near the intersection of today's Second Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. It was built to designs of Frederick Lindley Morgan at a cost of $615,000, in neo-Georgian style. The third-story ballroom with large chandeliers and oak floor is well known. Other rooms feature wood paneling, marble floors and large murals along entire walls (several American Revolution scenes are depicted). There are also two bars, a barber shop, a library, athletic facilities, and numerous other rooms for members. The club employed about 30 and had about 800 members as of 2003.
The Pendennis Club plays host to a popular post-Kentucky Derby party, which attracts much of the Louisville social crowd and usually a few celebrities. Tara Reid, Cuba Gooding Jr., Richard Branson and members of the New England Patriots have all attended the bash. In recent years, the event has received attention from national news outlets, including ESPN.
Derby brunch and dinner are also popular traditions at the club.
The club also hosts an annual "Boxing Night." Amateur (usually collegiate) boxers square off in a ring set up in the club's grand ballroom. The black tie event is restricted to gentlemen.
Boxing has a rich tradition at the Pendennis Club. Louisville native Muhammad Ali fought at the club early in his career.
Other members have included:
During the period of the Civil War, William Burke Belknap . . . owned and resided in a house [subsequently] occupied by the Pendennis Club.