The Bankers Club at 2 S. Biscayne Blvd, 14th Floor
The Bankers Club at 2 S. Biscayne Blvd, 14th Floor ()

When the Bankers Club opened in downtown Miami in 1972, lawyers, bankers and real estate moguls flocked there for three-hour martini lunches with clients enjoyed in a plush, stately room with panoramic views of Biscayne Bay.

Memberships were $1,000 a year plus $100 a month, but that didn’t deter 1,440 of Miami’s power elite from joining the tony club on the 14th floor of One Biscayne Tower at the height of its popularity in the mid-1990s.

With no fanfare, the Bankers Club closed its doors Thursday, ending an era that has been replaced by professionals grabbing quick lunches at their desks, dining at a wide selection of new downtown restaurants and saving time for fitness workouts.

“I think the club was a victim of the downtown’s success,” said Alexandra Bach Lagos, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Miami. “Years ago, lunch options were limited in the area, and you had to take your clients to the Miami City Club or the Bankers Club. With options like Zuma and Il Gabbiano and other top restaurants opening, the Bankers Club lost its appeal and died a slow death. It eventually became a space just for hosting luncheons and cocktail parties.”

Even that business dried up. When the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Federal Courthouse opened several years ago, the Federal Bar Association, a longtime client, switched to new facilities at the federal building, noted Miami attorney Aaron Podhurst of Podhurst Orseck, a former club member.

“Years ago I was a member, and then I dropped it because I didn’t go often,” Podhurst said. “It’s the passing of an era. We have much less of these formal lunches than we used to do. It was a smaller bar then and more intimate. This is a cultural change.”

Miami had four major clubs during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. For their convenience, Bankers Club members maintained personal wine collections designated by a nameplate.

“One by one, they have fallen by the wayside,” noted Bowman Brown, a partner at Shutts & Bowen in Miami who was a member of the Bankers Club for a decade but let his membership lapse five years ago. “I had just stopped going awhile ago because a number of good restaurants have sprung up as the downtown has burgeoned and there are so many options. This is a milestone.”

Many former Bankers Club members who let their memberships lapse in recent years said they weren’t surprised by the club’s closing. They learned the news in letters from management.

In a statement, Miami attorney Rayfield McGhee of McGhee & Associates, the club president, confirmed the club’s closing and said no decision has been made about what to do with its furnishings.

Harry Payton, a lawyer and member of the club’s board of directors, said the club would not file for bankruptcy.

The leasing agent at One Biscayne Tower did not return calls for comment by deadline.

“The landlord has been very tolerant up until now,” Payton said, adding the club was not evicted from its 30,000-square-feet quarters. “How long could we keep in going? People’s customs and mores change.”

When the recession hit in 2008, all the corporate memberships were canceled, causing a major revenue hit, Payton said. The club opened its doors to the public last year, but it was too late to save it.

The Bankers Club also failed to update its old-style look, which featured mahogany paneling, upholstered wing chairs, pastoral paintings and Oriental carpeting.

Payton, for one, said he’ll miss the club, where he used to eat every day, sampling the lavish buffet.

“The food was good, the fellowship was good, and the networking was good,” he said. “It was a great venue.”