Virtual Dinners to Racial Justice Teach-Ins: How L.A.’s Private Member Clubs Stay Social Amid Pandemic

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Kerry Washington

Membership clubs like San Vicente Bungalows, The Wing and NeueHouse are largely waiving member fees while offering special online programming to their industry cliques.

With social distancing in place, L.A.'s private social clubs are waiving fees — from $2,160 to $6,000 a month — and getting creative in engaging their members.

"You log in to Instagram and there's seven people live and John Krasinski has a late night show and you're bombarded with this amazing programming — our focus is to do things that could be meaningful to our members," says h Club LA's director of membership and marketing Heather Bardocz. As a result, the club, which is not charging membership fees during the pandemic, has stacked its virtual programming with sound baths, DJ sets and family sing-alongs. On April 30, it hosted its first remote member meal: The club's GM dropped off ingredients at the homes of members, who then jumped on Zoom that night to cook and eat the same meal together. Says Bardocz, "We sold out within an hour of posting."

Other clubs have been similarly innovative, with West Hollywood's San Vicente Bungalows hosting one to two virtual events a day, ranging from cooking lessons, workouts, guided meditations and skin care master classes to virtual concerts, poetry shows, tarot card readings, Mafia games and haircut tutorials. To further immerse members, the club, whose membership fees are on pause, also hosted a “Truth or Drink” game with maître d' Dimitri Dimitrov on April 16 and has held mixology classes with Bungalows bartenders; timed to Mother’s Day, the club’s florist gave a virtual tutorial for flower arrangements and Bobby Flay went live on its private Instagram to cook a celebratory brunch.

The Wing, a women’s co-working space with 11 locations including in West Hollywood, has had a 300 percent increase in attendees, amounting to over 50,000 RSVPs, to its online versus traditional in-person events, which have included A-list talks from Kerry Washington, Evan Rachel Wood, Katie Couric, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Fran Drescher, Rosie O'Donnell and Busy Philipps, as well as a home chef series with Alison Roman and concert series with Vanessa Carlton — the club even built a custom “Wing Island” on popular video game Animal Crossing for even more virtual interaction. With fees waived at this time, The Wing’s senior vp marketing Celestine Maddy says, “We’re in a situation where people are craving togetherness in a time when everybody has to be apart,” reflected in the waitlist for its digital community World Wide Wing growing seven times its usual rate since the shutdown.

Elsewhere, Soho House has launched Open House, opening its member events to the public with programming like hair-care tutorials with Jonathan Van Ness and a conversation with Tiger King producer Trevor Groth. The club is giving members credits while it's closed. The Jane Club has hosted writing workshops and racial justice teach-ins, while NeueHouse, which has also waived membership fees, has launched, among other programming, a comedy cooking series.

Cindy Gallop, a NeueHouse member who has also given one of the virtual talks, says it’s been “seamless moving into a digital relationship that is based on all of the values the real-world space and the community are founded on, and I really appreciate that.”

And though they have been implemented quickly, these changes may become the new normal for social clubs, even as the world returns to its more social state.

“I don’t think this is a temporary solution; I think we’re watching the world pivot,” says Neuehouse vp of cultural programming Meredith Rogers. “There's a real appetite for our community to gather virtually and I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”

A version of this story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.