New Social Clubs Seek to Strike Gender Balance

A report in Popsugar highlights the ways new social clubs are benefiting women, including Soho House, which has 18 locations around the world, The Arts Club in Los Angeles, and The Battery in San Francisco, which has a membership that is 43% female.

A new generation of social clubs is upending the country club model. They appeal to urban professionals looking to add structure to their social and professional lives, without the golf or tennis or even extremely high membership fees, Popsugar reported.

For much less money, members get just the clubhouse. Reflecting a decline in popularity of golf among millennials, the social activities revolve around dining, drinking, and cultural programs like lectures and concerts instead of sports. Some clubs even actively try to maintain an equal balance of men and women, Popsugar reported.

In 1995, Nick Jones decided to open Soho House in London as a response to the traditionally stuffy offerings, meant to appeal to the more “artsy” community. In 2003, the club came to New York’s Meatpacking District, and Soho House now has 18 locations around the world, which members can access when they travel, Popsugar reported.

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Throughout the US, others have followed the Soho House model of creating members-only clubs for creative types. Gwyneth Paltrow is an investor in The Arts Club in Los Angeles. In San Francisco, British-American couple Michael and Xochi Birch opened The Battery in 2013. Today, it’s popular with San Francisco’s tech and finance crowds, but membership manager Joe Holcomb said The Battery actively tries to keep a “diverse” membership base. Today, 43% of members are women, and the membership committee will often try to skew the acceptance rate toward women with the goal of making the total membership 50/50 men and women, Popsugar reported.

In addition to maintaining a gender balance, The Battery wants its membership to be diverse in other ways. The Battery’s founder likes to imagine a venture capitalist having a conversation with a musician. With fees at $2,400 a year plus a one-time $500 initiation fee, membership is within many people’s reach, Popsugar reported.

On the main floor of The Battery there is a restaurant and bar with a menu that includes yellowfin crudo for $17, a house burger for $18, and a Wagyu New York strip steak for $40. (There is no minimum spend or member credit; you just pay for what you eat.) You can also grab coffee or dine and relax outside in the garden, Popsugar reported.

The workout space and sauna are located on the basement level, where you can also find a 20-person hot tub, often the site of organized poetry readings or group discussions. Upstairs is the members’ only bar and library. Designed by Ken Fulk, the entire club has a British hunting lodge meets London in the ’60s feel to it with rich leathers, taxidermy, brick, and vintage-looking furniture throughout. There are also 14 hotel suites open to the public. Hotel guests have full access to the club, and members get a discount on rooms for themselves or friends. The rooftop penthouse hosts events like weddings, Popsugar reported.

Hollywood A-listers and industry heavyweights make up much of the membership at Soho House’s West Hollywood location. But having a high-paying or high-power job isn’t enough to gain entrance to city clubs. In 2010, the New York outpost kicked out 500 existing members to prevent the club from being too “corporate.” Not wanting too many “Wall Street” types, Soho House appears to favor members who work in the arts, media, and fashion, Popsugar reported.

It’s impossible to nail down the mysterious admissions requirements for these clubs, perhaps because an official policy doesn’t exist. Tim Geary, a former membership director at Soho House, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that the West Hollywood outpost has denied every Real Housewife who applied and that Kim Kardashian has tried to gain admission several times without success. The Battery is less harsh with wannabe members. While they currently have 4,500 members and 1,000 on the wait list, no one is ever rejected outright. While a “strong” candidate will be admitted on the first pass, they review the wait list every quarter, Popsugar reported.

What makes you a “strong” candidate? “Somebody who focuses more on their personal interests rather than focusing on their career has a good chance,” Holcomb said. The membership committee, made up of member ambassadors, wants to know about your career, but it’s also looking for someone who is open to new people and new ideas. “We take finance people and artists. We just want to maintain that balance.”

The Battery strives for the ambiance of an elite college campus with higher-end decor, food, and drinks. “On any given night we’ll have a lecture on topics ranging from comic books to personal health. Or we’ll have a music session going on in our library with a local indie band,” Holcomb said.

At both The Battery and Soho House, no photos or phone calls are allowed. “It encourages people to look up and talk to people around them,” Holcomb said. “We have members from all different career fields. It’s that willingness to converse that ties everybody together.”