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Casa Cruz, Aman & The Super Premium Club
A spate of $100k buy-in clubs are all launching. What's the deal?
Cafe Society is Maxwell Social’s Whenever-I-Have-The-Time-To-Write magazine on the intersection of community, society, web3, F&B and more — an anthropological look at the underpinnings of what makes the world tick and how tech is changing it, written by David Litwak (@dlitwak) and the Maxwell team. Maxwell is building a new type of social club in Tribeca, check out the photos on Instagram, if you’d like to apply go to www.maxwellsocial.com and if you’d like to book an event get in touch here.
In the past few months there has been a variation of the private club launching that I’ve found intriguing — the truly ludicrous buy-in level club. Casa Cruz, the New York satellite private club by celebrated celebrity restauranteur Juan Santa Cruz apparently launched last week, with a reputed minimum 100k minimum buy-in and 30k a year membership fee (hearsay, hard to find any exact numbers).
The Aman hotel group launched their private club that I heard has a 50k buy-in and yearly fees also in the tens of thousands.
I have mixed emotions.
Service & Community Are Not Necessarily At Odds If You Are Super Wealthy
We’ve taken a pretty hard stance that to run an effective community space it can’t be centered around service — the minute you add 20+ kitchen and waitstaff and a food and beverage program your incentives switch to filling up tables — even if you charge a membership fee you are essentially a gated restaurant. We’ve elaborated on this in We Should Totally Buy A Bar and Community Doesn’t Scale: Soho House & Miniclubs.
Our solution is a model more akin to your grandpa’s Italian American society, the local social clubs that used to be everywhere, spaces that were minimal service, community spaces, and we’re reinventing those with a space centered around kitchen islands, not bars, lockers to store your drinks and belongings, and a culture of hosting — entertaining, not entertainment, you’re the bartender for your group of friends.
Occasionally someone asks me “are you saying there will never be a Maxwell with food service or a bartender” and I’ve often said, well, look, I think the price point to have all these services AND actually have community is just SUPER high. So yes, theoretically, if someone wants to start a membership club and pay $2k a month instead of $250 I think it could be possible to have a full time chef.
My issue with Soho House is that they have convinced people they can have it all — status, exclusivity, intimacy and full service at a reasonable price. But as we’ve elaborated on in our two part Soho House analysis (Part I and Part II), that’s not true — they democratized all the wrong parts of private clubs, keeping the status and elitism and service (debatably) but throwing out the intimacy. At least the old school clubs like Whites, Boodles and Brooks that cost an arm and a leg to join and served $25 Diet Cokes kept the intimacy part of it — high fees but low member numbers.
There is part of me that respects Casa Cruz and Aman for at least acknowledging that at a certain service level, and to keep the level of intimacy they are probably aiming for, the price necessarily needs to be high. At least it’s intellectually honest.
And maybe there is a jet set crew of billionaires that want to only hang out with other billionaires — I hear Casa Cruz only has 100 members, many of whom I’m sure were cultivated over the decades that the owner spent running one of London’s premier hot spots.
But is this an actual community, and if so, even a desirable one to most of the people who can afford it?
Diverse Friend Groups, Core Club & George Clooney
I can’t help of think of my times attending the Core Club, which from what I can tell is the last iteration of this “club for the .00001%” model. Core Club was in midtown (it has since moved somewhere else), had large buy-ins, and is apparently the type of place that the owners of sports teams hang out (or are supposed to) more than the players.
But every time I went for a business meeting there was no one there, every time I was invited to a dinner it was to fill a seat at the table because not enough members had signed up.
And it led me to believe that you can’t create a real local community on the backs of billionaires. People who have seven homes are not going to be forming the backbone of any one neighborhood.
To clarify, that doesn’t mean they can’t participate, or even finance, these community spots . . . but I believe there is a high likelihood that these clubs end up like the Core Club — ghost towns.
One of my favorite stories is that apparently when George Clooney got a windfall from the movie Gravity he decided to give $1M to each of the long time friends who had stuck with him through thick and thin.
The details will make you a George Clooney stan — the crew included a man who owns a construction company, his long time hairdresser and, I kid you not, a “pig sitter” — apparently Clooney has a pot bellied pig as a pet.
One of our fundamental beliefs at Maxwell is that people’s friend groups are more diverse than most private clubs give them credit for. I don’t think most founders only want to hang out with fellow tech entrepreneurs, and I bet most artsy people enjoy conversations with business people.
All finance people aren’t the devil, some of my best friends work in finance and are simply deeply interested in economics and the financial levers that run the world and are far from boring dinner table conversation.
While George Clooney’s decision to give his friends $14M dollars is out of the ordinary I actually don’t think his friend group is — I think we all gather groups of friends based on various overlapping common interests and life experiences, and it’s hard to drill those down to a set of interests or a particular wealth level.
While I think Casa Cruz and Aman are intellectually honest about what it takes to provide that level of service and the necessary level of exclusivity, I get the feeling these are models from a world where the aristocracy truly DIDN’T mix with us hoi polloi.
They are models from a world where most wealth was generational and people like George Clooney’s simply inherited their money and didn’t spend 12 years as a struggling actor (sleeping on many of these guy’s couches apparently) until finally hitting it big at 33, and don’t have friends from different walks of life who they came up with.
From a community perspective, I believe these extreme wealth centric models simply won’t work in a modern world where just like Italians don’t only hang out with Italians anymore, super wealthy people don’t ONLY hang out with super wealthy people anymore either.
For what its worth, I believe they can 100% work as businesses — members are basically paying 30k a year for a super luxurious 2nd home timeshare decorated with Hockneys and Harings. At a certain level of wealth and status I’m sure that’s worth it to some people.
And whatever you price your club at there will always be SOMEONE who can’t afford it, so again, at least these guys are not pretending you can have it all like Soho House is.
But like the rest of the private club mania, I think there is a high likelihood they end up as facilities, not communities.
If you’d like to learn more about how Maxwell is building REAL community, please reach out — we’re super responsive and don’t bite, we’d love to hear from you, especially if you live in NYC or come often.
David (@dlitwak), Kyle, Joelle & Cara