Discover more from Cafe Society
Announcing Our General Membership Drive!
Building a Club Based On Contribution, Real Culture & Intellectual Resonance
After a 4 month freeze we just opened membership to public applicants! Feel free to tell us about yourself and apply, but read on to understand why we waited as long as we did to launch our general membership drive.
Over the past 6 months we’ve accomplished a lot. We tackled a lot of the basics around running a space. We learned how to elegantly throw events like a fashion week party with Tommy Hilfiger, or a U.S. Open Watch Party with Chase Travel and Andy Roddick.
But the most important question we asked ourselves in the last 6 months was what kind of club we wanted to be — did we want to be a Casa Cipriani or Zero Bond with liquor lockers (the impression some people seemed to get) or did we want to be something TRULY different.
We settled on two pretty radical ideas to lean into.
Every member needs to contribute in order to join.
Programming should be centered around deep intellectual resonance and genuine cultural exploration.
We’re going to write more in-depth explanations on each of these but for now, a quick summary as to the why.
Communities Are Built On Contribution
When we hosted a members roundtable session with a few of our founding members we heard a shocking piece of feedback — they wanted us to REQUIRE them to participate. “Ask not what Maxwell can do for you but what you can do for Maxwell” was the specific quote. We had been dabbling with this idea for a while but we realized we still had fundamentally a “service” mindset, a mindset that had us thinking well, members were paying us, now we had to put on programming and convince them to show up. But what if we flipped that on its head — it was a PRIVILEGE to be part of this community, payment or not, and we’d only accept you if you were invested in building that programming with us.
As is the case with most things at Maxwell, what we are doing appears new but is incredibly old at the same time — once-upon-a-time you were expected to teach Sunday school at your church, you planned the Italian American festival fundraiser and you baked cookies for the school bake sale.
And we observed that the members who we had cajoled the most into getting involved ended up meeting the most people through that participation and got the most out of Maxwell — perhaps counterintuitively, the best thing we could possibly do for our members (the RIGHT type of members) was to force them to show up.
This has now become a core part of our philosophy — if you are looking for a place to post up, not talk to anyone and summon Jeeves to get you your esoteric drink order, Maxwell is not the place for you.
But if you enjoy showing up early to help cut the Challah for Shabbat, or if you enjoy planning your friend group’s Holiday party, you’re our type of person.
Intellectual Resonance is Key
A month ago Maxwell threw a dinner with a friend of mine who put out a popular lecture series on philosophy a couple years ago that got a huge following. It was 12 people, specifically selected by him and me, on a specific topic of Philosophy and it was a blast — I hadn’t had those types of intellectual conversations since college. A few days later while watching soccer at the club two members started talking about the respective books they were reading on the British Empire and the British East India company and I realized spaces for intellectual and cultural conversations like that don’t exist anymore. Our community spots, not only the synagogues and Italian American clubs, but the cafe society culture (what this newsletter is named after), and the places of high culture like Truman Capote’s Brooklyn Heights townhouse once all served as a place for frank discussion and debate about the cultural and intellectual issues relevant to those groups.
But frankly every “salon” I’ve been to has been an intellectual circle-jerk, and every arts gala I’ve ever been to has been full of people present mostly so they can pretend to like ballet/classical music/opera/arts and post their cultural superiority on Instagram. Our society is littered with “culture” that is really just glamorous excuses to party.
We realized with the philosophy dinner we had done something many of our Friday night dinners and other attempts to build community hadn’t — created new friendships over deep intellectual similarities.
And we realized that small is beautiful — the more specific the programming (a business biography book club instead of a general non-fiction book club) the more likely the attendees would find someone they deeply resonated with.
Over the next 6 months our goal is to build out 40 different dinner discussions, lunch book clubs, breakfast pow-wows on specific topics that happen every Sunday and Monday (and we’re hiring for this position, feel free to reach out!).
We realized that when you start a business in nightlife/private clubs/hospitality there is a very strong push to play the game everyone else is playing — attractive people, trendy DJs, fancy cocktails and big parties. And we do that pretty well now 6 months in — in my opinion there is no better party than a Maxwell 90’s cover band party.
But we realized that the people we want to be dancing to “Shout” with at 1am were the people we deeply resonated with who were as invested in building this community as we were, not random influencers paying a fee for a night out.
If any of this sounds appealing to you we’d love to chat.
David, Kyle & Joelle