Community Doesn't Scale: Soho House & MiniClubs (Cafe Society #6)

Plus Gucci's New Ad Campaign, Mexico Cartel Coronavirus Aid & Universities & Offices are "Dead"

Cafe Society is Maxwell Social’s weekly magazine on the intersection of community and society — an anthropological look at the underpinnings of what makes the world tick, written by David Litwak (@dlitwak) and the Maxwell team.

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Now, This Week’s Update:

When I moved to NYC two years ago I joined Soho House. I had spent the last 7+ years living in San Francisco where there wasn’t any real tradition of social clubs, and I had spent a lot of time in London (though never lived there), which was the opposite, so I was excited to be part of one as an actual member. Plus, I heard the pool was quite the scene in the summer.

I was sorely disappointed. On acceptance I was given no onboarding. I realized it was basically a glorified co-working space during the day (and admit, that’s basically how I came to use it as well). No one seemed particularly interested in meeting people — it mainly seemed a way to show off to potential people young creative freelancers were trying to close that they were indeed hip enough to be a member.

My Soho House membership was, in short, a fashion accessory — you could get most of the same amenities in various other places, but you paid the premium for the same reason you pay for a Gucci label — it was fashionable to be a member.

What I realized was that between 85,000 worldwide members (this has been confirmed by Soho House), 8,000 NYC members (this one is hearsay) the people staying in the hotel, everyone’s guests, well, you might as well have been at any other somewhat trendy bar in Manhattan . . . community doesn’t scale, and we delve more into that in our weekly Medium post.

Read More Here

Events Update

The Virtual Vault event with Jiggy went fantastic, had guests from Impractical Jokers and Wild N Out, and a lot of up and coming comedians. Stay tuned for additional events we’re launching in the next couple of weeks.

What We’re Reading & Watching

The New Gucci Ad Campaign, on Youtube Here, Harpers Bazaar writeup here.

I’m not really into fashion, and the few splurge purchases I’ve spent money on over the years have been a hell of a lot more subtle and understated than Gucci, but we absolutely LOVE their new campaign. For one, the final screen of that video says “Come As Your Are” which was a theme for a party Elsa Maxwell threw back in the day. But while some of the campaign is a little much there are a lot of scenes of what we talk about internally as “irreverent fantasy,” the type of night where anything can happen with a cast of characters, which are key elements of the brand we’re building at Maxwell, and contrast nicely with all the images of beautiful people cheers-ing their martinis and taking themselves way too seriously that you see every other brand going after.

Mexican Drug Cartels Distribute Coronavirus Aid to Win Support

In Mexico,"During the pandemic, the organized crime groups have handed out food in recent weeks in 11 states, and they have used threats and violence to enforce their own quarantines in two states." I’m going to give credit to NextDraft newsletter for what I think is a basically perfect caption: “See, you can be the head of a large, international criminal organization and still believe in science.”

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Scott Galloway Predicts a Handful of Elite Cyborg Universities Will Soon Monopolize Higher Education

I loved my college experience at UC Berkeley but it wasn’t for the actual education part —I value my Berkeley experience mainly for the growth I experienced over 4 years, for the campus, for the social life. So I’ve been intrigued about what the future of the college campus looks like. I loved a couple parts of this article, the first one was where Scott points out how extreme college vetting is:

“They have done a fantastic job creating the most thorough and arduous job-interview process in modern history, between the testing, the anxiety, the review of your life up until that point, the references you need. If I’m applying for a job at New York Magazine, I’d give you a list of references and you’d call them. You don’t ask the references to write a two-page letter. Universities now do background checks to see if you’ve ever had a DUI or been accused of a crime. They look at your social media to see if you’re abusing alcohol or if you’ve made racist or bigoted statements. We’re screening people like crazy.”

And the second part was his answer to what’s going to happen to campuses?
I worry they’ll still exist, but they’ll be just filled with rich people. A four-year liberal-arts-campus experience is going to become something that’s largely relegated and positioned to the children of rich people.

. . .

I personally worry about how a little shit like me will experience what I did at UCLA. I tested my limits freshman year. I drank too much and threw up too often. I joined crew and pushed myself harder physically than I ever imagined possible. I fell in love for the first time. I gained resilience when I had my heart broken. I met people from different economic backgrounds who gave me a sense of empathy. All of those things would have happened, but unfortunately they wouldn’t have happened in such a gentle and joyous and safe environment had I not been on campus.”

We’ve thought about how the U.S. has a great tradition of universities being more socializing institutions than anything else. Keeping inline with one of our earlier newsletters about how COVID is Calling Our Bluff, I think there is a reckoning coming with universities - much like you aren’t paying for the drinks at a bar or for the panels at a conference, most of the time we’re not paying for the education at Berkeley, we’re paying for the affiliation, the network and the social experience.

What social structures arise to replicate the campus as more and more of the university comes online?

Future of Offices: Coronavirus Won’t Kill The Office But It Will Change Forever & The Office Is Dead

I had a call recently with someone well connected in real estate who said all his broker friends were preparing to start helping their former office clients find sub-letters - companies looking to go from 50,000 sq ft down to 25,000, and mentioned how that was going to be the majority of what many of his friends were going to focus on for the next 6 months.

We’ve been reading a lot about this, and found this paragraph particularly interesting for those of you who are trying to figure out when to pounce on real estate post-crisis, buy that office space or lock down a particularly advantageous long-term lease:

“That’s likely because rents are historically slow to respond to economic downturns, explains Jack Burns, managing principal of tenant representation firm Cresa, noting that in the past three recessions it took about a year after the recession’s peak before real estate costs reflected those downturns. “Real estate costs are driven by supply and demand, and when there’s a lot of vacancy, landlords get more flexible and drop the rents because they need a tenant,” he says. “But right now, vacancies are really low, and they will be until we sort of get through what we’re going through in the next six months. And then we’re going to see a lot of space up for sublease, and that will throw a wrench in the supply chain and force landlords to drop prices.” It also may be several years before the dust settles because so many companies have long leases (Groupon’s, for example, is through January 2026).”

Communities Can Grow Too Quickly

As someone who is part of a bunch of unused Slack groups that attempted to build community, I appreciated this brief article by Hunter Walk: “I was recently granted access to a Slack community associated with a newsletter I’ve been reading for a while. The kinetic energy of new members started on the #Welcome channel and then flowed to other discussions on themed channels. Whether intentional or not, the batched admissions – we were added as a cohort – created its own dynamics. It felt like an fun event. Reminded me of bit of when a startup we’ve recently invested in announces itself to the rest of Homebrew’s founder group.”

It’s Ok to Laugh Again

Viewers are getting tired of overly heartfelt ads expressing gratitude for front-line workers or detailing how brands are giving back, said Paul Marobella, chief executive of creative ad agency Havas Creative North America.

But nothing can convey a change in tone and that the worst is behind us like humor, marketers said.

In a commercial for hearing aid company Eargo, which was created by IPG-owned ad agency Huge, a daughter repeatedly whispers a private message to her young husband in the family kitchen that he is just not getting, when her father, wearing his Eargo hearing aids, blurts out, “Condoms, Charlie. She wants to know if you brought any condoms.”

We called it in our first STLFT: So small restaurants can open, some Cincinnati streets will close - and become outdoor dining spaces

We’re curious how quickly other cities adapt once restaurants open and business is a shadow of what it used to be . . .

Cafe Society is Maxwell Social’s weekly magazine on the intersection of community and society — an anthropological look at the underpinnings of what makes the world tick, written by David Litwak (@dlitwak) and the Maxwell team.

Have a great week!

David (@dlitwak), Kyle & Tia