Friday, January 05, 2007



Written and Photographed By Taft Matney

Anyone who spends time downtown often passes the Poinsett Club. They see beautifully manicured grounds, historic charm, and a parking lot that’s almost always full. A home to weddings, receptions and parties, and a place where friends can relax and enjoy each other’s company, it is also a place with a storied history.

The Poinsett Club began in 1935 after John Arrington and several prominent Greenvillians met in South Carolina National Bank’s boardroom to issue membership invitations.

In a March 26 letter, they explained the new “social club to occupy what was originally the Lewis W. Parker home on Washington Road” and moved forward to organize the club.

At an April 16 meeting in the public library’s auditorium, they named the club in honor of South Carolina statesman Joel Roberts Poinsett – a congressman, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, Secretary of War, co-founder of the Smithsonian Institution’s predecessor and, probably most well-known, the man who introduced what is now known as the Poinsettia.

Shortly thereafter, the club opened its doors at the Washington Street location it occupies today – more than seventy years later.

Constructed in 1904, the club’s main portion once consisted of two parlors, a ladies’ lounge and a bar on the main floor, with the second floor used for recreation. Expansions and renovations over the years added meeting rooms, dining rooms, new bars and the main Red Ballroom.

As you enter the main hall, which greets members and guests with a double staircase, dark wood accents and wall coverings that evoke thoughts of Ambassador Poinsett’s fiery red plant, the club changes from the center of social activity seen from the outside to an inviting home away from home where friends can share a meal and unwind.

As private clubs compete with a growing hospitality market, the Poinsett Club continues to thrive.

Club maitre d’ J.C. Rosemond celebrated 40 years with the club in October and offered his own insight about the club’s survival. “It’s a friendship. It’s a community. We work with members, and members work with us so we can give back to the community,” he said, noting that part of the club’s original mission was to promote social interests and encourage cooperative relations among area residents.

Another reason for the club’s success is its diverse membership. According to general manager Brent Reeder, current members include third- and fourth-generation members as well as area newcomers.

“We have a membership ranging in age from 26 to 96, and they are as varied as their ages. The Poinsett Club is home for business and community leaders, elected officials, young professionals, and everyone in between. Those wide-ranging backgrounds are one aspect differentiating us among other private clubs,” Reeder said.

With workplace longevity now the exception instead of the rule, Paul Latimore is one witness to the Poinsett Club’s changes. After 48 years, the self-described “semi-retiree” serves the club’s “Bull Table” five days a week and has his own ideas about the club’s endurance.

“Some of my Bull Table members have told me that I know them better than their wives,” he said with a laugh. “To be honest, the members like us, and we like them. We want our members to feel as comfortable as they do at home.”

Asked about full-time retirement, Latimore just smiled, walked back to the Bull Table and said, “Maybe when I hit 60 years I’ll think about it.”

Latimore’s description embodies the Poinsett Club as a place where past, present, and future coexist.

Club president Hayden Hays said he thought about the future when he joined 25 years ago. He actually credits his wife as a primary reason for joining. “My wife told me that’s where our daughter’s wedding reception would be.”

She was right. Their daughter’s reception was there, and so were thousands of others.

Newlywed Lance Crick said that when he and his bride considered reception locations they didn’t hesitate in selecting the Poinsett Club.

His wife Cindy agreed. “It’s one of the most beautiful locations in the area no matter the time of year. For us, there was only one choice,” she said.

The club is also the scene for Greenville’s debutantes and charity events like the Rose Ball. Today, as the Poinsett Club embraces its tradition, it also looks ahead.

Reeder noted that the club was again designated as a Platinum Club of America, awarded to the top 3 percent of the country's 6000 private clubs

The Poinsett Club is the only Platinum Club in Greenville, the only city/dining club in the Carolinas to hold the distinction and one of only 35 nationwide.

Part of that is due to Chef Emile Labrousse raising the level of the club’s cuisine with menus unlike others in Greenville and seasonally rotated signature dishes ranging from meat to poultry to fish and the club’s crabcakes.

Complementing Chef Emile’s menu, operations manager Charles Brewer (a 25-year Poinsett Club veteran) continues expanding the club’s wine selection beyond other cellars in Greenville and ensures that wine pairings are as close to perfect as they can be.

Continuing its pursuit to be the premier dining club in the Southeast, Hays said that the Poinsett Club is also adapting to technological advancements.

“We introduced business amenities such as meeting/conference capabilities and wireless broadband access, but we want to make certain that we do not veer from the club’s original mission.”

Hays also pointed out that members are not limited to enjoying their home club.

“We have reciprocal relationships with over 25 clubs in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Many offer overnight accommodations, so it’s a great benefit for our members to spend the week in New York and feel as comfortable as they do in Greenville,” he said.

Looking to the future, Reeder said, “The Poinsett Club will continue to be the focal place for community functions, weddings, receptions and events. It’s important that we serve our members and that we follow the mission of the club’s founders to support the community’s civic progress. It’s about being a good neighbor.”

(Author's Note: Copies of TALK may be purchased throughout the Greenville area at 8 O'Clock Superette, Asha's Gift Shop, Barnes & Noble, Bloom, Books-A-Million, Hyatt Regency Gift Shop, Lake Forest Quick Shop, News & More, The Open Book, The Shops of Provence, Twigs. TALK subscriptions are available here.)



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