Ace of clubs
Fine dining with a priceless view has been the standard at the Summit Club for five decades.
Summit Club Executive Chef Sean McDonald and General Manager Tony Zaranti recognize 50 years of the historic Tulsa club.
Fifty years since it opened, the Summit Club continues to be one of the best places in town to watch the sunset on the Arkansas River.
But you’ve got to have more than a sunset to thrive. Over five decades, the Summit has continued to be the place where deals are made, where life events are celebrated and where food and wine are elegantly presented.
The ambiance and service have held up — and the food has been given a recent makeover under the direction of a new general manager, a chef and a certified sommelier.
“The founding fathers would be proud of the Summit, a half-century after the opening gala,” says Dr. Steve Gerkin, a member of 18 years, along with his wife, Sue.
The Summit’s original board president, Stanley D. Breitweiser, and his fellow founders pulled out all the stops when opening the Summit in 1967. Gerkin says that began with choosing the top floor of the building that then housed the Fourth National Bank and hiring a Swiss chef and a seasoned club manager from Houston.
“The longevity of the club is astounding,” Gerkin says. “Restaurants and social organizations come and go, yet the Summit continues to thrive.”
The Summit has more than 1,600 current members, who, along with their guests, have clinked many glasses at the Summit’s home for 50 years — the top floors of the Bank of America building at West Sixth Street and South Boulder Avenue.
Although it’s a Tulsa institution, many people might still wonder, “What is that place? Is it actually a club?”
The Summit Club is a city club: a social club rooted in dining and networking. Members pay a one-time fee plus monthly fees for access to the dining rooms and private function areas.
City clubs across the country have declined in number over the past 10 years. Locally, the Petroleum Club closed in 2011, and similar social and dining clubs in major cities that sprouted up in the 1960s have shuttered.
Those that have remained open have been willing to change with the times, says Tony Zaranti, general manager of the Summit.
“For us to be relevant, we are thinking ahead and outside the box,” Zaranti says.
He says the Summit isn’t competing with country clubs for memberships. Rather, many Summit members hold multiple memberships at golf and tennis clubs, for example. The Summit offers dining and networking, not activities or sports. You must be a member or be accompanied by one to dine at the Summit Club.
“I tell people I’m in the happiness business,” Zaranti says. “The Summit Club is a destination. It’s often a two- to three-hour experience — a place to dine, to watch the sunset, to celebrate an anniversary.”
The Summit’s partnership with Tulsa’s Young Professionals has attracted more young members. Nearly 14 percent of its members are junior members, age 37 and younger. Junior members are granted all of the same club privileges as regular members minus voting privileges. Also, initiation fees and monthly dues are half the cost for junior members.
Zaranti, a Chicagoan who most recently came from a city club in Fort Worth, Texas, knew updating the Summit’s menu was a priority. After conducting a thorough membership survey, Zaranti found that members wanted to keep with traditions of the club but wanted to improve the quality and consistency of the food and service. The survey also led to the addition of a mixologist and “the best chef in town.” As general manager since June 2015, Zaranti also knew keeping some of the members’ favorites — such as the dover sole deboned tableside, the veal scaloppini and the Caesar salad — would be important. So, the current menu is a good mix of classic and fresh.
The Summit’s new executive chef, Sean McDonald, added dishes including seared scallops and pork belly with a spiced hazelnut gremolata, a short rib and mushroom lasagna, and a truffle-stuffed chicken with candied parsnips and mousseline potatoes.
On the 32nd floor, the a la carte penthouse menu also has a classic section where diners can choose from long-standing dishes. Two private dining rooms also are available on this floor. The Summit Grill on the 31st floor offers a lunch buffet Monday-Friday. Five private dining rooms are available on this floor. The 30th floor holds the club ballroom and three private rooms.
Longtime diner Gerkin recalls that in the 1960s, the Summit held to the culinary gold standard of a very formal European cuisine. Though even then, the Summit also had a grill with more casual foods. Today’s dress code is business casual; jeans are permitted, and once a year shorts are acceptable at the Summit’s Picnic in the Sky on the Fourth of July.
The Summit Club has been host to many famous faces, including politicians stopping for lunch or dinner after a campaign event. Vice President Joe Biden, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Speaker Paul Ryan are among those who have taken the elevator to the top of the Bank of America building in the past year.
Zaranti says longtime employees have played a significant role in the Summit’s success. In 50 years, the club has had only six general managers, and several employees have been with the club for decades. Server Erma Taylor has worked at the Summit for 46 years.
The Summit Club
15 W. Sixth St. | 918-582-5243
Membership information available at summittulsa.com.