Torskeklubben New York turns 45

Torskeklubben New York

Photo: Adriana Saebo
Be-medaled fellows at the 45th anniversary of Torskeklubben New York.

Rune Engebretsen
Pioneer Valley, Mass.

On April 5, 45 years of cod and red wine were celebrated at the Cosmopolitan Club in Manhattan. Fifty men and women gathered at a black-tie gala to commemorate the birthday of a Norwegian cod club. It was a sparkling event, with superb cuisine, speeches, singing, and dancing in artistically elegant quarters. Toasts and well wishes echoed in salute to a relished New York tradition.

It started in March 1974, when 12 Norwegian businessmen met at the Stockholm Restaurant in Manhattan to dine on cod paired with red wine. They found the repast scrumptious and the conversation (på norsk) scintillating. The mood ran high, calling for a repeat performance. By the end of the lunch, the group had elected entrepreneur Sigurd Golten as its first BAS (boss), and Torskeklubben New York was born.

The original 12 decided that the club’s purpose was to socialize, exchange ideas, and enjoy one another’s company. Forty-five years later this is still the mission of the club.

Once a month, except in the summer, the members of Torskeklubben New York meet for lunch in Manhattan. This involves 20 to 30 Norwegian-speaking gentlemen. In several ways a select group, the most selective aspect is an indomitable devotion to fish. When gathered, these gentlemen always dine on fish. Not any fish. It has to be cod—poached cod—accompanied by boiled potatoes and carrots, with melted butter to boot. And then, of course, there is the red wine.

These Norwegians, a hearty crew, do their level best to live up to the name of the club. They are well aware that, in English, cod rhymes with god, and that, in Norwegian, torsk rhymes on norsk. Before each lunch, as their mothers taught them, they rise reverentially to recite a short “table prayer” in Norwegian reflecting these attributes. The exact words are patent–proofed, the subsequent cheers nearly so.

Membership in this private social club has always been by invitation. Becoming a member involves a handful of “rites.” Little can be revealed about these, and then only sub rosa in Norwegian. What can be said is that the members of Torskeklubben New York make up a spirited and congenial group, and they set great store in creating an atmosphere of warm hospitality

Through the years, a good many guests have come to share the conviviality of the club. These include public figures and diplomats from Norway, who have kept the group au courant and generated stimulating discussions. Even when in earnest, stay current with a cheer!

It is a bit of a miracle what norsk torsk, Norwegian cod, can do for friendship and fellowship. The members represent a range of interests. Many of them spend time together beyond the monthly lunch. What ties them together is their abiding love for cod, poached cod, tempered by a well-chosen red wine and an ear for the art of conversation in Norwegian.

Yet the members are not doctrinaire about the virtues of cod. In the month of June, they serve up salmon. And every October, at the peak of “leaf-peeping” season, the club roster includes a lobster lunch, held cross-Hudson at Upper Saddle River. Initiated in 1998, it is the one time during the year when members break bread with their spouses and companions. This also occurs every five years when the birth of Torskeklubben New York is celebrated with the ladies at a black-tie event.

The celebration on April 5 at the Cosmopolitan Club in Manhattan was such an event. The festive atmosphere under the sparkling chandeliers invited joyful moments of memories and highlights.

One of these included a greeting by Harriet E. Berg, consul general of Norway in New York. Congratulating the club on its 45th anniversary, she spoke of the positive bonds between Norway and the United States. In closing, she also commented on the fine hosting and the beautiful setting of the celebration, and then added with a lift in her voice: “For this particular occasion, it may well be in order to have the Cosmopolitan Club named as the Codmopolitan Club.”

The congregation of men and women intoned unanimously with laughter and applause.

This article originally appeared in the May 3, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.