A Comprehensive Guide to LA’s Private Club Scene
From The Britely to The Arts Club: Where will you spend your post-pandemic nights?
As Los Angeles (and all of California) has gone beyond the color-tiered system of ranking COVID-19 levels and has returned to allowing businesses, venues, restaurants and bars to open without restrictions, private social clubs — the hottest places to be before the pandemic hit — are once again emerging. Some are a bit battered, others have succumbed and closed permanently, a few have thrived and one has sprung to life just as vaccinations open our city back up.
The Britely is the newcomer, having just opened its space in early April 2021. Originally slated to open a full year before, this social club located on the Sunset Strip as part of the Pendry West Hollywood hotel (in the space that once was the House of Blues) has an ambitious rollout plan for members, who will pay $2,800 annually as founding members.
“We’re starting with 500 to 600 members at first,” Estelle Lacroix, director of lifestyle at The Britely, tells InsideHook. “Our rollout is going to start slowly, because we want to keep our community safe. We started by adding about 26 committee members. Those committee members were given free membership for three years, but their role was to bring in their contacts and their friends. They still interview with us about membership and need to really understand what we were about, and then we ask them into our membership.”
Referral for membership is the name of the game at most private social clubs, in fact, and The Britely already has people lining up to join. “We have a pretty large waiting list. So as the months go by, we will slowly add people,” Lacroix says. “The club is all about celebration and a social environment. We are not focused on being a co-working space at all.”
It’s about really good food, too, as they have recruited famed chef Wolfgang Puck to make sure members are well fed – and coming back for more.
“I have never done a private social club before,” Puck tells us. “I looked at a lot of private clubs around town here, and their food is never really good. I mean, I have never heard anybody say, ‘Wow, Soho House has amazing food!’ So for me to have a great private club, having great food and service is an important part.”
The Britely has two Puck-helmed private-dining restaurants (the rooftop one is Asian-inspired) as well as comfort food served in the bowling alley, along with chic bars, a spa, gym, screening room, performance venue and rooftop pool. It’s pretty obviously designed to compete directly with that big dog in town, Soho House.
With the strength of over 110,000 members worldwide, Soho House successfully maintained its three L.A. outposts — Soho House West Hollywood, Little Beach House Malibu, Soho Warehouse DTLA — with minimal closures. They even added a Soho Works space on Sunset Boulevard in the midst of 2020 to allow members to get out of their houses to work in a safe space. Add it all up, and Soho House remains the biggest player in the SoCal private social club scene.
Privacy Makes Perfect
While Soho House set the current standard for the private-club scene in L.A., especially with its strict rules ranging from no photos inside the club to a zipped-up, no-reveal membership list, it is actually the ultra-exclusive San Vicente Bungalows that has taken over the coveted spot as the place where members truly are power players to the world.
Leaks don’t happen often from that $60 million club created in 2019 by Jeffrey Klein of the Sunset Tower Hotel fame. But sometimes they do — most famously in April 2021 when Prince Harry slipped in for lunch with the ultimate L.A. doyenne Wallis Annenberg, and back in 2019 when Steven Spielberg and Ted Sarandos met privately at the club. Those rarely seen quick looks inside happened despite the club’s strict no photos rules — members actually hand over their phones when entering to have the cameras covered with a sticker for the duration of their visit.
For a membership price of $4,200 per year (and a bit less for those under 35), the San Vicente Bungalows guarantees that none of Hollywood’s riff-raff gets a pass into what Klein told GQ Magazine is a place that “we’re probably most exclusive to white rich men — that’s who we exclude the most.” A slightly ironic statement from the owner who matches that criteria himself, but people like Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama have been rumored to be members (or at least guests) of the club. With a reported waiting list of 8,000 people, it seems San Vicente Bungalows is still rolling strong as the pandemic abates.
In truth, Los Angeles has always catered to the “rich white men” of the city, with exclusive clubs like the DTLA California Club, founded in 1887, and the Santa Monica beachfront outpost known as The Jonathan Club (1895) setting the standard for the wealthy denizens of the area long ago, and still going strong. But the newest iterations of an old-fashioned idea are definitely more inclusive, while still trying to keep the exclusivity and privacy elements of traditional “old boy” clubs at the forefront.
Combining Work and Play Among the Elite
NeueHouse opened its first Hollywood version in 2016, positioning as a members-only work and so-called “arts creative community” space in the old CBS Broadcasting building in Hollywood. They made it through the pandemic by offering members a place where they are allowed to keep (and use) their phones as they set up shop for the hour, day or week.
The second NeueHouse is located in the Bradbury Building in downtown L.A., as the company expanded its reach to the burgeoning arts scene there. Opening in the spring of 2020, this spot also serves as an artistic community center/work space for those who can afford the price of membership, which begins at $595 a month for access, but no permanent desk. Rates go higher for permanent desks, private offices, etc.
NeueHouse, which also has a building in New York City, actually regrouped and joined up with Design Hotels in late 2020 to provide members with more options for safe working in select hotels including the Avalon Beverly Hills, and in March 2021 announced a merging with Fotografiska, the international photography museum with three locations, resulting in a combined private club membership of 10,000 people worldwide.
Spring Place is another luxurious member-only work and social club that survived 2020, perhaps because of being reportedly backed by Leonardo DiCaprio (among others) and perhaps because of its 6,500-square-foot outdoor rooftop space. The club on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills that opened in 2018 is actually a whole building: 40,000 square feet of work and party spaces. With tiered memberships ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 yearly, members have access to the company’s New York location as well. Before the pandemic, Spring Place was a hotspot for party takeovers; member and Academy Award nominee Audra Day hosted a small post-Oscar 2021 bash on the rooftop, so that element looks like it’s on its way back, too.
Some Club Casualties
Not every elite private club made the rocky journey through California’s long-running shutdown, however. The highest profile social club to permanently close was h Club, the Hollywood outpost of the London establishment; both of those shuttered for good in 2020, citing the effects of the pandemic as the catalyst.
The women-centric clubs that sprang up just before the lockdown have struggled to stay afloat, as well, with AllBright, Jane Club and The Wing (which boasted “coven” members including Shonda Rhymes, Laverne Cox, Sharon Stone and Lucy Liu) all pulling back or shutting down completely. The Wing recently reopened its WeHo location in June 2021 and the AllBright seems to still have the possibility of life after COVID-19, currently offering a digital version but hinting at opening again in Los Angeles. Jane Club shuttered its Larchmont work/social space and went digital back in late 2020.
And the big mother of them all, Gwyneth Paltrow’s pet private-club project The Arts Club West Hollywood, has been pushed to a 2022 opening. Paltrow and her partners got a green light from West Hollywood back in 2018 to build the West Coast version of The Arts Club London on Sunset Boulevard, in the spot replacing the old Hustler Hollywood store.
Bringing that venerable private club that began in 1893 to the City of Angels has been a long haul, but when the Gensler-designed building finally opens to a select few, it will be a place like its London counterpart, “a haven for those people who have professional or amateur relationships with the arts, literature or science.”
Like many of the other SoCal private social clubs, expect to need a referral to join this ultra-exclusive place, whose yearly fee looks to be upwards of $3,500, with a $3,000 joining fee (based on the London club’s current fees). The nine-story, 120,000-square-foot building will devote floors 5 to 9 to The Arts Club, boasting everything from screening rooms, spa, pool, bars, and multiple restaurants. No word yet on if they’ll have a chef that can compete with The Britely’s Wolfgang Puck’s comfort food and ever-changing menu offerings, however.
“We will have daily special dishes, maybe a ‘blue-plate special,’ at our private dining places in The Britely,” Puck reveals. “Home-cooked meals, like fried chicken with honey and chili flakes or meatloaf with mashed potatoes, maybe my mother’s ravioli or the chicken pot pie we make for the Oscars. People love that.”
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