There's a secret way into Monaco's most elite club

  • Sophie Friedman
  • Bloomberg
6:00 a.m. Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 Travel
Balint Porneczi/Balint Pornecz
Lights illuminate luxury super yachts and other vessels as they sit moored in the harbor at night ahead of the Monaco Yacht Show in Port Hercules, Monaco. Bloomberg photo by Balint Porneczi.

The Monaco Yacht Club is one of the moneyed city-state's most exclusive private clubs, founded by no less than the late Ranier III, Prince of Monaco, husband of Grace Kelly. Getting in requires two sponsors, approval by club president Prince Albert II, and a fee the club declined to disclose. Each year, when the Monaco Yacht Show descends on the city, it's where you'll find Russian oligarchs, Chinese titans of industry, as well as captains, crew members, and media; year-round, it's where nautically inclined members of the royal family talk shop. 

But for those who don't hold a golden entrance key, there's still a way in - well, at least into the glassy Foster+Partners-designed club building itself - and that's through the Wine Palace.  

This high-minded temple to Bacchus stocks a cool 3,200 bottles of wine, Champagne, and spirits on its shelves. Naturally, the focus is French, with Bordeaux producers Château Smith Haut Lafitte and Château Cheval Blanc being particularly hot sellers. Prices start from just €10 ($12) a bottle and average around €40, despite the boîte's fashionable location. The food menu is compact but ticks all the boxes, with a varied cheese platter, foie gras, palm-size tartines, smoked fish and, in summer, a pretty pile of tiny heirloom tomatoes and rounds of fresh mozzarella.  

Grab a table on the terrace and prepare for primo people watching. While the Wine Palace might not be officially part of the Yacht Club, you never know who you'll spy browsing bottles to have delivered to their yacht.  

And of course, the harbor isn't the only place to be. For other in-the-know spots, we asked locals for their top tips. There may be a litany of lauded restaurants (five Michelin-starred, eleven Michelin-recommended) in the city, but Monégasques don't always go for the obvious, awarded, or expensive. Here's where to join them. 

Maya Bay  

A well-known Japanese-Thai spot on the ground-level of a very standard apartment complex, the bland exterior here belies how trendy the restaurant actually is. Reservations are essential, especially if you want to sit outside. There is an indoor dining room with a dozen tables and chandeliers dripping from the deep red ceiling, plus a wood pavilion in the peaceful garden out back. 24 Av. Princesse Grace; Lunch 12-2:30 p.m., dinner 7:30-11 p.m.  

Local Tip: Sara Gioanola of Dutch superyacht builders Heesen, says the best way to experience "the quality of the food, especially the raw ingredients," is a sampling menu. The sub-€20 prix fixe lunch menu makes this especially popular with locals. 

Sass Café  

The Mediterranean-leaning Sass Café is a great pick for dinner. It serves such delicate dishes as tagliolini with prawns and rucola or Provençal sea bass to tables of suited and heeled couples. 11 Av. Princesse Grace; dinner nightly from 8 p.m.  

Local Tip: Go late - and stay late - because that's when it "transforms into a crazy dance floor," said Gioanola. "You'll see CEOs and billionaires dancing on the tables. This is the quintessential Monaco experience." 

Monte-Carlo Beach Club  

Classic Côte d'Azur embodied: Think chairs with beautiful white-and-blue striped cushions and iconic views from the terrace, especially late in the day when the sun starts setting behind the mountains and the water and all of Monte Carlo stretch out before you. Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, co-founder of design fair Nomad Monaco, says it makes the most elegant of aperitivo hours: "I like the negroni, and to eat, I have the barbagiuan, a fritter with chard and ricotta, which is very Monaco." 2 Av. Princess Grace; open daily  

Local Tip: In the warmer months, mid-April to mid-October, the beach club is open to outside guests, so call early to reserve your cabana. During events such as the Formula One auto race and the Yacht Show, "early" means at least a month in advance; for regular evenings or weekends, two weeks should do. And, of course, don't forget a swimsuit. 

Buddha Bar  

Monte Carlo staffers whose job it is to know where to go - a bartender at Hôtel Metropole, the concierge at Hôtel de Paris, and two clued-in employees of the Casino de Monte-Carlo (which, to be fair, does have the same owner) - recommend Buddha Bar, once home to the 154-year-old casino's cabaret bar. People come for sushi and stay for mojitos, which are still having a moment on the Riviera. If you don't want to go to a club but still want to listen to music and dance a little, this is the spot. Place du Casino; 6 p.m.-2 a.m. daily  

Local Tip: Expect a crowd of young creative types in tech and media, a far cry from the Yacht Club's buttoned-up set. This is Monaco, though, not Silicon Valley, so eschew the hoodie for a tux jacket or linen sport coat. 

Odyssey  

By day, this Karl Lagerfeld-designed Joël Robuchon restaurant is for hotel guests only, but nights from May to October, the outdoor restaurant is open to all. It's a low-key contrast to Robuchon's formal restaurants within the hotel; the fare is simpler and seasonal. There might be lobster medallions and eggplant risotto, sandwiches, grilled meats, or salads with white tuna belly and anchovies. Diners, Champagne in hand, tend to be mid-30s and up, a mix of couples, families, and friends out for a refined but relaxed dinner. Inside Hôtel Metropole, 4 Avenue de la Madone; from 7:30 p.m. daily May to October  

Local Tip: Book one of the quiet back-corner tables, surrounded on two sides by greenery, and order one of four cocktails inspired by Givenchy fragrances.

View full experience