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The knights of the round table do lunch.

The idea is one that Algonquin Round Table mainstay Dorothy Parker would have applauded, although the result is doubtless a bit too staid for the caustic Jazz Age writer.

Every Tuesday from October through May, the National Arts Club in New York City's Gramercy Park neighborhood is overrun with writers, editors, publishers, artists and actors who gather for the weekly meeting of the Dutch Treat Club.

Launched in 1905 by a group of writers and artists who commuted together by train into New York and decided to meet regularly for lunch, the club now boasts about 300 members.

"It's like the Knights of the Round Table," says Ralph Graves, former Time Inc. editorial director and the club's president. "It's a little legendary and a little mythical."

The 19th century building where Dutch Treat members meet, with its dark wood paneling, stained glass windows and marble hall and staircase, provides an elegant setting. Membership costs $95 per year and is open to anyone whose principal income is from publishing or the arts; most are journalists or writers. It wasn't until 1991 that women were allowed to join (so far 20 have), and despite efforts to attract younger members, the club is still mostly male, and mostly balding or gray.

Members say it's one of the most pleasant and interesting ways to spend Tuesday afternoon in all of Manhattan. "Where else in New York can you sit around with $1 million worth of paintings on the walls and have lunch for $20?" asks member Bob Young, former president and publisher of Family Circle.

That $20 doesn't just buy lunch--a drink at noon, followed by soup, a hot meal, wine, dessert and coffee. It also includes a performance by a singer and a speaker, perhaps Walter Isaacson discussing his biography of Henry Kissinger, or New York FBI Director James Fox spinning tales about how his office nailed John Gotti.

"It's truly an oasis out of the asphalt jungle," says Charles Hagedorn, a 27-year club veteran and owner of eight New York area papers.

Graves, the president, succeeded science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who died in 1992. Walter Cronkite and Hugh Downs are honorary vice presidents. Members include Good Housekeeping Editor John Mack Carter, Financial Times Publisher Lawrence Allen and author Lowell Thomas Jr. Another was legendary New York Times correspondent Harrison Salisbury, who died in July.

Roger Lourie, owner of a publishing company and, at 48, one of the club's youngest members, says the Dutch Treat isn't special because of the food or the entertainment, "which has its ups and downs." Instead, he explains, "it's the membership that makes this place."
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Title Annotation:Dutch Treat Club
Author:Blaney, Retta
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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