It seems most institutions rarely get the send-off they deserve, but this seems to be the end of a long, litigious, sad chapter for a place that once had so much life installed within its walls.
The Friar’s Club, without question one of the most famous exclusive clubs of all time, became a home away for home for many of the biggest names in show business, particularly comedy. It was a private club where only the coolest in show business would hang out. Turn a corner, and you would encounter what can only be described as show business heaven. Milton Berle, Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Dick Shawn, Henny Youngman, Buddy Hackett, and everyone else in between. In later years, it became home to people like Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Gilbert Gottfried, Billy Crystal, Jeff Ross, Quentin Tarantino, Barbra Streisand, Brett Ratner, George Clooney, and hell, even Donald Trump. Hell, Jimmy Fallon even bought a membership for every member of his writing staff to be able to join the upscale and pricey club. You had to be recommended just to join. This was THE place to be.
Or at least, it was. In recent years, the legendary roasts, where friends and peers would lovingly lodge jabs with no-holds-barred at each other, have been on the decline. Less and less of a turn out would occur. Some years, you’d find nary a name that would remind you of how hot it once was. With the death of Jerry Lewis, who served as the club’s Abott, in 2017, it’s almost as if the club sort of went with him. It already started to feel like the club was on borrowed time, despite still having a number of A-listers frequenting. But it became less and less over time, and with the last link to the bygone era gone, the fate was all but sealed.
Another factor that most likely plays a role is the behind the scenes politics. In February 2017, the club had been raided by the FBI. Over time, more information began to arise. It was later reported that executive director Michael Gyure had been convicted of and pleaded guilty to falsifying income tax returns. He was accused of failing to report $433,000 in personal expenses.
“The historic and legendary Friars Club has learned that its Executive Director, Michael Gyure, has been charged with underreporting his income on his personal taxes,” The Friar’s Club said at the time in a statement. “The charge concerns Mr. Gyure only; the Friars Club has not been accused of any wrongdoing. It is our understanding that Mr. Gyure has addressed the charge through his personal counsel, as the charge pertains to his personal affairs. The Friars Club appreciates the significant contributions Mr. Gyure has made over the years to our organization. We will have no further comment on this matter as the case proceeds in court.”
Now? The latest, unfortunate blow to the club comes not in the form of a joke, but a flood.
“Our Club experienced a severe flood situation, which necessitates closing the building immediately while we ascertain the extent of further damage,” the club said in a statement to its members. “All dining, programming and other services are suspended until further notice. As soon as we have more information, we will convey it to the membership. We appreciate your support during this time.”
Word on the street seems to suggest that there is no coming back from this. Who knows. We hope this isn’t the end. It’s a shame. Within those walls was more than an institution. It was history. And beyond that, it single handedly gave both to the roast as we now know it. It was the place to be in its 115 year history, and we’re so sad to see it go. It isn’t over until it’s over, but in the distance, one can start to hear the fat lady, only this one isn’t singing. She’s roasting.