Chateau Marmont owner Andre Balazs is making it official. He’s turning his clubby, storied Sunset Strip hotel — an insiders’ Hollywood haven for generations and for the past few Oscars the site of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s A-list-only bash — into a certified private-membership club.
Like the rest of the hospitality sector, the 63-room lodge, which opened in 1929 as an apartment building, has been hit hard by the pandemic, seeing its bookings drop to a trickle and laying off almost its entire staff. Balazs told the Wall Street Journal that he’d been considering such a business model transition for several years. But the coronavirus crisis and its effect on travelers’ wariness about mixing with strangers had accelerated the decision to convert the property into a members-owned facility.
“There is something to be said for knowing people,” the hotelier explained. “You can chat with them; you know where they have been.”
Balazs, whose other exclusive boutique hotels include the Chiltern Firehouse in London and the Mercer in Manhattan, says he hopes to convert the Chateau by the end of the year and, if successful, may introduce the members-only model internationally, both at his existing properties and at new ones.
Over the past decade, since Soho House’s debut in West Hollywood, the private club format has blossomed across Los Angeles, with exclusive entrants like San Vicente Bungalows, niche offerings including women-focused The AllBright and workspace-oriented campuses such as NeueHouse and Second Home. While lodging has been part of the package in town — SVB offers its namesake bungalow suites, and the newish Soho Warehouse in downtown L.A. features a slate of rooms — so far it’s not been central. (The offering so far with the most stay-the-night rooms and suites, H Club in Hollywood, which catered to the music industry, shuttered in May.)
Toward the beginning of the pandemic, Balazs was the subject of criticism for his treatment of the Chateau’s laid-off nonunion workers, including dismissal without severance pay and limited extensions of health care benefits. Many of them had been with the property for long tenures. Balazs said he’d made a $100,000 contribution to an ex-employee fund, which was distributed based on seniority.
Balazs told the Journal that he didn’t intend to rehire many of the former employees because he desired less staff and a different skill set. After the Journal story was published, a Chateau spokesperson wrote to The Hollywood Reporter, providing further detail. The intention is to enlist “dedicated staff trained to domestic, rather than commercial standards (more like a personal butler).”
The spokesperson noted that membership cost, programming plans and integration of the club model between Balazs properties is currently under consideration. Nonmembers will still be able to make dinner reservations “in certain areas” of the Chateau property.
Pre-pandemic, about 70 percent of Chateau guests were repeat customers and the top 100 guests generated the majority of room revenue, according to the hotel. During the crisis, the trickle of remaining guests are now residing for lengthy stays, and those who do book are all directly speaking with hotel managers and concierges before confirming their reservations. In other words, the Chateau is already practically operating as a members-only club.