Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:09 pm
Lorenzo Vicini started working for the Milwaukee Athletic Club as a parking lot attendant when he was 17 years old. Thirty-one years and several jobs up the ladder later, Vicini is the general manager of what he has helped brand as “the country club in the city.”
This month, the MAC is celebrating its 125th anniversary along with the accomplishment of its third designation as a Platinum Club of America by John Sibbald Associates Inc., a St. Louis-based private club and resort executive search firm.
The MAC was recognized as one of America’s top 200 clubs, top 15 athletic clubs and top two private clubs in Wisconsin, next to Milwaukee Country Club in River Hills.
Club managers and presidents selected the clubs on the Platinum list, rating quality of membership, tradition and culture, amenities, governance, quality of management and staff. The survey has been conducted every three years since 1997.
“We treat all of our members as owners, whether they are 21 and have been members for three months or 90 years old and been members for 40 years,” Vicini said. “We are an elite club.”
Vicini worked his way from the parking lot attendant to bellman, to bell captain to front desk clerk, to night manager, to assistant operations manager to operations manager to assistant general manager to general manager in 2003.
“I established a good relationship with members,” Vicini said. “Over the years, they became like family, and I was more interested in meeting their needs than punching in and out.”
Recounting his time at the MAC, Vicini has plenty of stories.
“I have performed CPR, found people dead in the tub and chased down thieves,” Vicini said.
Once, a former guest took the MAC to small claims court, alleging the club damaged his vehicle when he parked there. When both parties showed up for court, the court commissioner asked to meet in his chambers.
“The court commissioner heard the claim and said, ‘The highball martini at the Elephant Room in the MAC is phenomenal.’ And the guy lost right there,” Vicini said.
The case was eventually dropped.
The MAC was incorporated in 1882 as a male-only gymnastic and exercise club. It was originally housed in nine buildings until 1917, when the club purchased the land and built its current 12-story location at 758 N. Broadway.
“In the 1920s, the wives of members created a woman’s area, including a pool, bowling alley and ladies lounge,” Vicini said. “They were only allowed to come in from the Mason Street entrance unless they were with their husbands.”
The Cherry Blossom room was the ladies area and included a bar, lounge area, couches and a powder room. Women were not allowed to join the club individually until the 1970s. The bowling alley was renovated into a women’s workout facility, and the Cherry Blossom room became a co-ed social area, Vicini said.
Today, the MAC is the only private club in Milwaukee that offers dining, meeting space, guestrooms and full athletic facilities, said Julie Frinzi, marketing director for the MAC.
Members can socialize and network at Mac’s, a street level bar; the Elephant Room; the Bali Grill restaurant; and
17 private meeting rooms, including the Grand Ballroom.
Members have access to 60 overnight guest rooms, racquetball and squash courts, private men’s and women’s athletic facilities, personal training sessions, massage sessions and skin care services.
The MAC is part of a network of more than 100 clubs that offer athletic facilities, dining and overnight accommodations. Members of the MAC are able to visit the reciprocal clubs located throughout the nation and in eight foreign countries.
“The MAC serves the rich and famous who’s who of Milwaukee with offerings that you don’t get any other places,” Vicini said.
About four years ago, the MAC renovated its rooftop that once held shuffle board matches in the early years to become a bar and grill. Up to 150 people can dine on the 13th floor of the Milwaukee Athletic Club with a unique view of the Milwaukee skyline.
This year, the rooftop started offering upscale dining on the grill and a full bar area for members and guests.
In the future, the MAC will be looking at opportunities to expand with a second location in a Milwaukee suburb and to further increase membership, Vicini said.
“We are always changing. We don’t want to sit still,” Vicini said. “In today’s world, you need to move with the times. We go the extra mile for our members, within reason.”
Associate membership for individuals ages 21 to 29 can join for $98 per month and receive all of the benefits of the regular membership. Frinzi declined to disclose other costs of membership.
Members join the MAC for different reasons, but most enjoy the camaraderie, receiving special treatment by employees and the networking opportunities to advance their careers and companies, Vicini said.
“Members establish long-lasting relationships at the MAC. They meet people here who become lifelong friends,” Vicini said.
The professions of members range from insurance professionals, attorneys and doctors to professional athletes, judges, politicians and business owners.
“Of the 1,400 or 1,500 members, virtually any bank, law firm, accounting firm and major corporation is part of the membership of the club,” said Paul Sweeney, a partner with PS Capital Partners LLC in Milwaukee and immediate past president of the MAC board of directors.
“We have catered to just about any politician,” Vicini said.
Presidential candidates who have visited the MAC include former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and former Massachusetts Gov. and current presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Bob Hope used to stay at the MAC whenever he was in Milwaukee, and Vicini walked Hope’s dogs when he served as a bellman.
Sports figures including Vince Lombardi, Roger Clemens and members of the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks have visited or stayed at the MAC, and Sen. Herb Kohl, owner of the Bucks, is a member.
Members of the old Milwaukee Braves stayed in the guest rooms of the MAC in August when the city hosted a party to celebrate the Braves’ 50th anniversary of winning the World Series over the New York Yankees.
Former Green Bay Packer and former head of Summerfest Henry Jordan died of a heart attack at the MAC in 1977.
Sweeney has been a member of the MAC since he moved to Milwaukee 20 years ago and has served on the board of directors for eight years. PS Capital Partners deals with mergers and acquisitions, and many of Sweeney’s transactions have come about through MAC relationships, he said.
“I do quite a bit of business at the club,” Sweeney said. “Like anything, I find the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. I have been involved in business roundtables, social functions, business networking and other events, and being there for a long time, I have met a tremendous amount of special people.”