New Orleans Athletic Club (222 N. Rampart St., 525-2375, www.neworleansathleticclub.com) member and former club president Frank Rochefort has exercised at the facility for 80 years, ever since being taught to swim in its pool by his father at 5 years old. When he was a young man, the club was a popular party spot, Rochefort says.
"We played a lot of cards, stayed in the (club's) bar until two or three in the morning," Rochefort says.
Current New Orleans Athletic Club (NOAC) bar manager and event coordinator Angela Haber now serves up protein drinks and smoothies alongside a standard menu of libations. "My job is to make sure the members are fortified with all sorts of goodies with and without alcohol," she says.
A member of the NOAC since 1996 and employee since 2002, Haber says she fell in love with the club's architecture, history and friendly vibe.
"When I walked in the club, I knew immediately that I was going to join. ... I love the spaciousness and the personal touches. They have done such a great job of preserving the history of the club — the placards, trophies and photographs — all the special touches that are very much a part of the club, they speak to me," Haber says.
The four-story, 54,000-square-foot club is filled with memorabilia that has accrued since its inception in 1872. Old trophies share space with framed black-and-white photographs of burly, mustached athletes. A melange of architectural styles (the newer, front section features Corinthian columns and slate floors; the older, rear section's marble, wood and cast-iron detailing reveals a Spanish influence) speak to the NOAC's history and growth as it expanded from a modest backyard gym to occupy the better part of a city block.
Over the years, the NOAC has welcomed luminaries such as Tennessee Williams, Clark Gable, Huey, Earl and Russell Long and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Recently, celebrities like Jude Law, Kate Hudson and Liv Tyler have enjoyed the club's amenities, which include a heated pool, sauna, group exercise classes ranging from Spinning to yoga, free weights, an indoor track, a boxing ring and racquetball courts. The ballroom and pub can also be booked for private parties and special events.
Despite its storied past and opulence, the club feels grand but not imposing.
"Even though we are in a large building, it is warm and comfortable and friendly here," Haber says. "And that's what I remember feeling when I first walked in. I thought, 'Wow, this is wonderful.'"