A year ago, a friend and I were denied service at a local yacht club that shall remain nameless for merely mispronouncing the name of the member we'd accompanied (he was outside on his boat). It was my first brush with the exclusivity of a club where boats are kept, and it left me wondering what lived behind the gates of these places where I was not welcome. Turns out, metro Detroit's yacht and boat clubs keep themselves sealed from the public (sometimes with barbed-wire fencing) because everyone would hang out at them if they could. On a visit to five well-known area clubs, we found beautiful views, swimming pools, and frozen blended drinks. But each club was also a cultural microcosm, representative of the people who call themselves members. Join us for a written tour from the blue-collar Kean's Marina, all the way up the coast to the hoity-toity Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.
Detroit Yacht Club
The historic yacht club on Belle Isle is one of Detroit's crown jewels. Founded in 1868, it's one of the oldest clubs in the country, and much of that history has been preserved. The Mediterranean-style clubhouse is steeped in nautical themes, with gold-painted rope and anchor embellishments along the ceiling, the face of
This "resort marina" has the tiki bar and playlist to make you feel as if you've been transported to Margaritaville. Beach music (think reggae hits like "Red Red Wine") plays throughout the marina, and people sip frozen cocktails garnished with mini umbrellas around a U-shaped pool.
Additional amenities include an indoor bar, jacuzzi, playground, and locker rooms. To hang out at Kean's, you must have a boat in one of its 400 wells or a storage rack. A convenience store and gas-up dock can be used by anyone boating on the river. Kean's is more affordable than a yacht club — it costs just $3,500 to put a 30-foot boat in the water and store it in the winter — and as a result, it's more laid-back and diverse. Co-owner Michael Litt says more than half of Kean's membership is black, and there's been a recent uptick in millennials who store their boats there.
Bayview Yacht Club
Bayview Yacht Club offers a home away from home for sailing aficionados in Detroit. It's not uncommon for members to set sail from the club several times each week. Commodore Ryan Farrell says he was up to four days a week until marriage
Edison Boat Club
"Egalitarian" is the word member Vince Pardi uses to describe this boat club for current and retired DTE Energy employees and their family members. "I love this club because you can have VP's and presidents and linemen and secretaries and nobody knows or cares," says Pardi. Situated on the grounds of a DTE natural gas plant, the club is more modest and homey than the others we visited. It has only 150 wells, and its primary features include a bar-restaurant, game room, and hangout area. On an overcast Friday evening, people of all backgrounds filled the windowed restaurant to take in the grey-blue view of the Detroit River. The atmosphere was cozy and friendly — no one inquired as to whether I was a member, and a guy who seemed to work at the facility popped up behind the bar and casually poured himself a shot of Jameson before disappearing again. The only unwelcoming aspect of Edison appears to be the barbed-wire fence that divides it from the McMansion community next door.
Grosse Pointe Yacht Club
This massive yacht club on Lake St. Clair is far and away the most grandiose of any club in metro Detroit. The Italian Renaissance-style clubhouse is distinguished by arched windows and a nearly 200-foot bell tower. Inside, an elaborate rotunda connects two dining rooms and a long foyer. There, a large bronze fountain statue called "Rhythm of the Waves" produces a light pattering sound that greets guests when they arrive. The 75,000-square-foot site features a bowling alley, Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool, multiple tennis courts, and a sailing center. But it's the details that set Grosse Pointe Yacht Club apart. A harbor staff will do "virtually anything for these boating members," a membership marketing manager says, from delivering food to washing boats. A gourmet outdoor pizza oven can cook a pie in 90 seconds. The bathroom in the lobby has lotion and
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