San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Club Unión Now Open to Nonmember Events

CLUB Unión has been a symbol of distinction and tradition since 1923, when a group of 10 friends founded the club as a social institution. The original two-story building with its impressive neoclassical façade was located in the heart of downtown San José, opposite the main post office. Each of the founding friends sold 10 shares, and thus, with a membership of 100 gentlemen, the club was inaugurated in 1925.Following the tradition of an English gentlemen’s club, politicians, businessmen and other prominent members of Costa Rican society gathered at the facility, and women were not allowed at certain activities and social events (though today they can apply for membership and are more than welcome). Memorable functions included a banquet given in honor of Charles Lindbergh after he landed at the La Sabana airfield in 1928, and a gala dinner celebrating President Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia’s (1940-44) signing of a border treaty with Panama in 1941. Many celebrations and grand balls were held in the club, particularly coming-out functions introducing debutantes to society.AFTER a devastating fire in 1983, Club Unión was rebuilt in the same location. The original neoclassical façade with its elaborate decorative motifs was replaced by a more austere look that still uses some classical forms of the period, such as elegant marble columns. Hanging cast-iron lamps lit by electric candles are an attractive addition, and illuminate the covered walkway that runs the length of the building.During the reconstruction of the club, members would congregate in a small building in the parking lot, where wine and traditional food was served. Today, it is quite a different story: the club has five salons seating 40-500 people that are used for special events, conferences, dances and wedding receptions. Valet parking is available.Behind the imposing wooden door, you’ll find a replica of a traditional gentlemen’s club. The spacious reception hall, with its marble floor, dark wood-paneled walls and works of art, is dominated by an imposing spiral staircase and cascading three-story chandelier. The elegant restaurant is a perfect setting for business lunches and entertaining, while the comfortable traditional-style bar with its leather furnishings is popular for casual socializing.Upstairs, a cozy wine bar called La Cava (The Cave) displays an impressive selection of vintages on its floor-to-ceiling wine racks. A popular spot with members and guests, it offers a light menu and live music, such as Flamenco guitarists. No longer an exclusive facility, the club has opened its doors to nonmembers, who may hold events there as long as a member introduces them.CANADIAN Vicky Kieke, who has been organizing monthly murder-mystery dinner parties in the San José area for the past two years, is now staging her events in an atmosphere where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson would have felt perfectly at home.Sleuthing is the name of the game at these entertaining affairs, where solving a crime between courses is the objective of the evening. Each participant is pre-assigned a character and asked to arrive in a suitable costume – this has its limitations, as the club still has a dress code. Guests are seated at tables of eight.Everyone is a suspect and is asked to stay in character throughout dinner. A script outlining where and how the crime was committed is handed out initially, with further clues revealed during dinner. Only the murderer can lie, but the other characters can be as devious as they like, and as questioning ensues the mystery deepens. By the time dessert is served, the sleuths should have a pretty good idea “who done it.” Participants are asked to name the culprit, and those with keen sleuthing skills are often able to solve the crime.The murder-mystery scripts are in English; however, Kieke says she is planning to have them translated into Spanish in the future, and hopes to have a Spanish speaking table or bilingual group to accommodate club members. For information on these monthly events, call 203-3652 or e-mail Club Unión has opened its doors to nonmember events, joining the club still involves a bit of exclusive rigmarole. According to club regulations, two active members must recommend you, and then the board of directors will review your application. New members must purchase Club Unión shares at a current cost of ¢250,000 ($520), in addition to paying the admittance fee of ¢300,000 ($625). After that, members pay a monthly fee of ¢36,000 ($75), of which ¢10,000 ($20) can be applied toward consumption at the club.Membership is honored at El Centro Campero Los Reyes, a private country club in La Guácima, northwest of San José, as well as at international reciprocal clubs in the Americas, Europe and Australia.For more information, call 257-1555, e-mail or visit

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