The five-year-old Birch Road Cellar now has three locations, two in Chicago and one in Seattle, built around the concept of providing “a better place to drink,” while also offering other amenities and activities designed to take Starbucks’ idea of being a “third place” away from home and work to “the next level.”
Accessibility is hardly the word that most often comes to mind when discussing private clubs, but Sharon Provins and Kim Bosse, founders of the five-year-old Birch Road Cellar BYOB members’ club concept, aren’t shying away from it as a goal, Fortune magazine reported.
Tossing out the old models that excluded members on the base of class, race, religion, or gender, and rejecting the idea that there needs to be a shared professional goal, the two women started the company, Fortune reported, to serve a personal need they had identified: a better place to drink.
The Seattle location of Birch Road Cellar, opened earlier this year in a historic mansion (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/birch-road-cellar-expands-to-seattle/) is the latest edition of their concept of a bar without a bartender and a home away from home, Fortune reported. “Starbucks revolutionized the ‘third place,’” said Provins, “but we want to take that to the next level.”
Membership to the club begins at $105 per month (with a $60 one-time startup fee) for two people, Fortune reported, and that includes a beverage storage locker and access to the swank, stylish clubhouse and its bar, which is fully stocked save for the liquor, which members supply themselves.
Most importantly, unlike so many private clubs, the only qualification for Birch Road Cellar membership, Fortune reported, is a desire to be a part of the community, which Provins joked is made up of the drinking equivalent of foodies, or “bevvies,” as she suggested.
Bosse’s mother, one of the first women accountants at Arthur Andersen, had passed on stories of having to enter the Union League Club of Chicago through the side door, Fortune reported, and even today, Provins reported, Birch Road Cellar has had potential members double-check that women were allowed.
The 80- to 90-person membership at the Seattle location is fairly gender-balanced, Fortune reported, with a wide range of income levels and most members being between their twenties and sixties. The main thing that ties the club together is a shared interest in beverages—Seattle’s proximity to wine country drove the owners’ choice to open in that city, after the first two Birch Road Cellar locations opened in Chicago in 2014 and 2017.
The club’s well-appointed bar space uses open shelving to make sure members can find whatever they need from the wide array of glassware for any type of drink and cocktail tools of all sorts, Fortune reported. Mixers of every style—both standard and a few treasures made by other members, like smoked lime cordial bitters and peppermint tea simple syrup—live in a low fridge, while a freezer keeps the specialty ice cubes chilled. Citrus and other garnishes live on the back shelf. It’s a high-end bar, just without the actual alcohol or anyone to pour it.
“It’s for when you want to go out,” Provins explained, “but released from the pressure of a bar.”
There’s nothing to buy, and the crowds are limited, Fortune reported. The membership doesn’t have a specific cap other than the number of lockers available (the club is currently halfway to that capacity), but the founders monitor usage to keep it from ever feeling cramped.
Upstairs, two additional rooms—a small dining room and a large event space—give members options for hosting dinner parties or game nights, Fortune reported, and the club itself has regular events, including those with guest chefs, classes on drinks, and wine clubs where everyone brings a bottle for the group to taste.
During the day, Fortune reported, some members use the space to do work—the club opens at eight in the morning, and there’s Wi-Fi, snacks, and plenty of space. And that space can be a significant draw. In Chicago and increasingly in Seattle, real estate is at a premium, and the club offers a social space for people whose homes might not have it.
Though Birch Road Cellar offers plenty of uses besides just drinking, Fortune reported, the focus provides a connection point for members that doesn’t involve the shared professional goals or networking pressures of other clubs—and there’s even a no-solicitation rule at the club, to make sure everyone can just relax and hang out. This, Provins noted, has made for plenty of fascinating friendships across generations and professions—like a hedge fund CEO and a firefighter in Chicago.
And because no one is buying or selling the alcohol, the focus is on interesting or special bottles, rather than how much someone can spend on one, Fortune reported.
“Every city has ‘that’ question,” Provins said about what people ask when they meet new people. In Seoul, where she lived for a time, it was, “How old are you?” In New York it was, “What do you do for a living?’” But with Birch Road Cellar, she said, the club has created a community where the first question changes to, “What are you drinking?”