In Los Angeles, the golden age of private clubs is back.
With all the award ceremonies and red carpet premieres being pulled from the calendar for the foreseeable future, in Hollywood and New York the glitterati have turned to getting together at a new generation of private clubs – something of a revival marking the start of a booming trend.
By Isabelle Campone30 septembre 2020
In the occasionally post-apocalyptic atmosphere of today’s Los Angeles, even Groucho Marx might have to eschew his oft-cited maxim of never visiting a club that would let the likes of him in. And he would be spoiled for choice. In the past few months, private social clubs have been flourishing in the City of Angels. As the pandemic persists, restaurants still struggle to reopen and with the conspicuous absence of premieres, award ceremonies, or even private parties, the Hollywood glitterati have nowhere to go out and shine. With that in mind it’s no wonder that the beautiful people are rediscovering the private club, accessible only to a happy few.
An Anglo-Saxon concept as opposed to coworking places
Private clubs are a tradition rooted in the English and American entertainment scene; all the rage in the Golden Age of Hollywood, they gradually fell out of fashion in favor of the more familiar gala events we remember so fondly from the pre-pandemic world. But now this somewhat outdated concept of gilded solitude and privilege seems to be regaining popularity, not just among celebrities but anyone who likes the feeling of belonging to an exclusive circle.
Last year’s most eagerly awaited opening was San Vincente Bungalows, the new venture by Jeff Klein, the owner of the Sunset Tower, a sanctuary in its own right that is off-limits to the paparazzi and other mere mortals. If you can get in SVB, you are guaranteed to rub shoulders with the stars. “I sensed a growing need for a very high-end club,” says Klein, “a very selective one, offering a sophisticated and intimate atmosphere, with impeccable service and total attention to the privacy of its members.” His hunch proved correct, and now it’s not only one of LA’s hottest spots, but its most elegant and selective: an oasis of white bungalows with tropical vegetation, complete with turquoise pool that transports its membership to a retro Caribbean resort just a few steps away from the Sunset Strip.
Now, you might come to San Vicente Bungalows to see and be seen, even to network, but it’s important to remember to leave the laptop at home. This new generation of private clubs (like SVB, the H Club or Zero Bond in New York, all of which opened last year, or the hotly anticipated Arts Club or The Britely in LA) are the farthest thing from a high-end coworking space you could imagine. No, they’re more like the Soho House, that may have started the private club trend, but which the newcomers have now matched or even exceeded by adding offerings of glitzy bars, stellar restaurants, maybe a gym, even a cinema, and of course a swimming pool.
A private space with total privacy
“The idea is to create a social group, to bring together people who want to meet, who want to feel they are part of a community without staring at each other through a screen. We welcome members from all walks of life. Our task is to anticipate their expectations and tastes,” explains Estelle Lacroix, the Swiss managing director of The Britely.
And to protect their privacy as well. Because these clubs have to make sure their members can relax, without worrying about ending up in an Instagram post. At the San Vincente Bungalows, they actually cover the camera lens on your phone with a small sticker when you walk in; any leak can lead to a lifetime ban. “The whole concept of the club is to make people feel at home. Tranquility and trust are essential,” Klein insists. “We keep the names of our members strictly confidential. When someone went public saying that they saw Spielberg at our club mending fences with the boss of Netflix, that person was banned for life.”
The appeal of such fortresses of privacy should be self-evident, all the more so since they have adopted special measures in connection to the pandemic to ensure the well-being of their members: most have hired “Covid managers”, who enforce ultra-strict hygiene rules; employees are tested weekly and temperatures taken regularly – in some cases, every hour (and members are temperature-screened at the door). Waiting lists for membership have exploded during the pandemic.
Rebuilding social bonds
This was clearly the reason that André Balazs, the much-talked-about hotelier and owner of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, the heart of Hollywood high society, shocked some this summer with his announcement that he would be turning this legendary hotel into a private club. “Common sense and basic health precautions require us to surround ourselves with fewer people than before,” he said, “and this allows us to build an interesting clientele.” In the face of the backlash, Balazs backtracked a little, assuring that the restaurant would always be open to non-members, but also defending his decision, adding that “70% of our customers were regulars even before, and the top 100 generated most of the hotel’s income.”
Fortunately, not all clubs are reorienting on an ultra-exclusive audience, and many are advocating for a return to social activity. Lacroix says that The Britely, with its glamorous decor designed by Martin Brudnizki and located on the famous sunset strip in Los Angeles, is “the ideal place to come back to life when we finally leave these difficult times behind. We’ll have a bowling alley, disco nights, it will be festive,” she enthuses. “Everything will be centered around the idea of a celebration, hopefully providing a reason to go out to those who don’t even have an office to return to anymore.” Unfortunately, the business world will not be returning to normal for a long time to come and for many companies, teleworking will be the new normal. After months spent at home working alongside spouse and children, it is not hard to imagine that many would be willing to pay a few thousand dollars to go out to San Vicente Bungalows and sit next to Michelle Obama, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Timberlake, or Lady Gaga (and maybe even Steven Spielberg) for a while. And the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing. “I no longer imagine opening a new hotel one day,” says Jeff Klein. “Private clubs are really the future of our business.”
The way Henry Wallmeyer, president of the National Club Association, sees it, in these past five years clubs have become our third “place to live”: “For all of us, the first is home, the second is the office, and the third is our personal sanctuary.”
In this age of pandemic, when the office has been taken from most of us, perhaps that personal sanctuary is fast moving into second place. And not just in the English-speaking world, but far beyond…
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