If eating roasted rat whets your appetite for exotic fare, you'll want to try the specials this weekend at the Waldorf Astoria, where Tarantula Tempura, Roasted Armadillo and Snake will be on the menu for the 109th Explorers Club Annual Dinner. Astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter will be honored alongside Neil deGrasse Tyson and director-cum-deep-sea-diver James Cameron (hopefully Cameron has gotten over the "snarky" email Tyson sent him, pointing out the GLARING inaccuracy of the astral positioning in Titanic!)
The Explorers Club was founded in 1904 by a group of friends who'd explored the Arctic and "wanted to keep hanging out," as Kristin Romey, one of the club's fellows told us. Because in 1904 "hanging out" was apparently parlance for "Founding a congenial club to explore the world's uncharted territories." In 1965, they took up residence in an Upper East Side Jacobean-style mansion, built by Stephen C. Clark, founder of the Baseball Hall of Fame and friend of early Club member Teddy Roosevelt.
We recently toured the Club's headquarters, which is 5 and 1/2 stories high (in an eccentric Being John Malkovich-esque touch), and is stuffed to the brim with oddities, tchotchkes and taxidermic fauna from every corner of the earth. "We have over 3,000 members from 60 countries," Romey told us. Through them, the Club has acquired a stuffed polar bear, not one but two Narwahl tusks, and a lion killed by Teddy Roosevelt. Our favorite item might have been the whale penis, which was the centerpiece of our tour guide's game "Guess What This Whale Penis Is" (we were not informed of the title of the game until we'd already lost, in disgust).
If you're thinking this Upper East Side members-only club is just Teddy Roosevelt types cavorting with other burly, mustachioed men in leather chairs, sipping brandy snifters and shouting "BULLY!" at one another surrounded by giant stuffed bears … well, yeah it's actually kind of like that (members receive personal lockers behind the bar to store their own liquor). But the scene isn't totally old-world exclusive: Romey says that the Club has taken an environmental turn, that they now "focus on sustainability" and that "Anybody who went and shot a polar bear would be kicked out."
Aspiring Magellans can attend the after-party for the Waldorf dinner this weekend, where DJ Spooky will be spinning tracks for John Glenn and crew. The Club also hosts a number of lectures every month which are open to the public. Young explorers should take heed: The Club is on the lookout for young blood, as the Apollo set isn't getting any younger. They tell us their eyes are on daredevil Felix Baumgartner, so the bar has been set, and that bar is jumping from space.