Do Chicago's New Social Clubs Live Up To The Hype?

SoHoChi_Club-Floor-Drawing-RoomPhoto: Courtesy of Soho House Chicago.
Forget speakeasies: There's a new type of social club in town. From a boutique hotel serving creative types to a photography studio-turned-lounge, these exclusive gathering places might not require a secret password, but they will light your credit card on fire.
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The question is, are these sought-after memberships worth the cost? Here's a look at two new social clubs catering to in-the-know crowds, plus a few old standbys that've been entertaining Chicagoans for years.
Soho House
Founder and CEO Nick Jones describes Soho House as "a home for creative souls." While anyone can stop in at The Allis (a bar and breakfast spot), Chicken Shop, or Pizza East, membership is required for access to the back rooms, which are modeled after the original club in London. Members also get virtually built-in networking and socializing opportunities, often with free booze and snacks — think learning how to make chicken and waffles or playing bubble soccer.
"We're definitely not a yuppie bin as our rates are not cost prohibitive," says Kimani Roquemore, membership manager for Soho House Chicago. "Our audience is geared toward the creative industries, including film and television, fashion, music, art, media, advertising, and tech. Chicago is such an epicenter for the creative minded; what was lacking is a place where all of these people with common goals and thinking patterns could come together."
The Cost: Soho House offers five membership types. The most popular is the Local House membership, which grants access to five floors of perks, as well as discounted room rates ($2,000 per year for members over 27 years old; $1,000 for those under 27).
Regular travelers might appreciate the Every House membership ($2,800 per year for members over 27 years old; $1,400 for those under 27), which offers club access and discounted room rates for the 11 other locations, including New York, West Hollywood, Miami, London, and Berlin. (Soho House plans to open a second New York location on the Lower East Side later next year.)
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SoHoChi_Roof-3Photo: Courtesy of Soho House Chicago.
The Bells and Whistles: On the second floor, members can access the club's gym, which contains a boxing ring, yoga studio, circuit training, a full spa, and a massive steam and locker room with everything you need to put yourself back together — including free laundry. The third floor houses 20 hotel rooms, while the fourth floor features a 30-seat, drink-friendly cinema for regular film screenings, plus a private event space for up to 60 seated or 100 standing.
The fifth floor is where the magic happens. A circular club bar features amazing views of the city and music performances. Art talks and other events take place in the cozy drawing room space or in the library next door. Later this fall, the Tavern, a restaurant with an old-school supper club menu, will open as well.
The rooftop pool — which has its own separate food and drink menu — sits on the sixth floor.
Getting In: An involved application process requiring two essays, a brief career history and head shot, plus the potential to be wait-listed (Roquemore wouldn't say how long) might deter applicants. Plus, just because you're accepted doesn’t mean your wife or husband will be.
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The Verdict: Worth it if you’re a creative type looking to network and socialize (date?) with other like-minded folks who want an exclusive, hot new place with fabulous amenities.
Soho House Chicago, 113-125 North Green Street; 312-521-8000.
Birch-Road-2Photo: Courtesy of Birch Road Cellar.
Birch Road Cellar
Nestled at the Western edge of Lincoln Park's Armitage Street — behind a buzzer and fingerprint entry door — sits a quiet, photography studio-turned-bar and lounge. The 14-seat dining space is ideally used as an extension of your home: think event space or the quiet bar you always wanted to own.
Co-owner Sharon Provins came up with the idea for Birch Road after seeing similar clubs gain success in New York City, Los Angeles, and in Europe, where they're extremely popular among urbanites with smaller living spaces. Her childhood friend Kim Bosse (former director of operations for Three Headed Productions) supports Provins as a co-owner and site manager. "It's like a friend gave you the keys to their awesome loft and you can stock it with whatever you want," Bosse says of the space.
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The Cost: At $89 per person or $119 per couple a month, the price runs lower than other social and professional clubs in Chicago.
The Bells and Whistles: The space is divided into three hang-out sections: a "tasting room" with a long wooden bar custom-built by a local woodworker and artist along with a few high-top tables and chairs; a wide open studio with lounge chairs, sofas, and local art decorating the walls; and a small dining room complete with 14-seat table that can be closed off for cozy, intimate meals and gatherings. In the studio — which members can use for larger receptions catered by local vendors — board games and a dartboard offer extra entertainment.
Members also have access to a wine cellar with 200 oak lockers where they can store their own wine, scotch, spirits, and beer. There are no nameplates, just keys for members and fingerprint entry. And, up to two guests are allowed per member at any time. The owners only ask that you reserve the studio and dining space for larger groups to play fair with other members (a secured website allows members to view other reservations as they're made).
Birch-RoadPhoto: Courtesy of Birch Road Cellar.
Members can use the wifi-enabled space (open daily from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.) to work on their computers or host business meetings. Free coffee, non-alcoholic mixers, and snacks such as cereal and trail mix are provided. You bring the rest (including food). The bar area also includes refrigeration, glassware, cocktail shakers, and other tools to help you "be your own bartender" for the night. The owners simply ask that you clean up after yourself using the sink and dishwasher.
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Getting In: While no criteria exists to join, Provins and Bosse like to meet face-to-face with prospective members, just to verify identity and make sure there's a good fit. Current members include couples with and without children, single men and women, city dwellers, and even suburbanites, given the club's relatively close proximity to the Kennedy expressway.
The Verdict: If you're the type to go out at least once a week, are sick of the bar scene, have a small living space, or are simply looking for a quiet work and meeting space, this membership's for you. Looking to meet new people? You’ll have to bank on a good showing at monthly events or weekend nights.
Birch Road Cellar, 1113 West Armitage Avenue; no phone.
Looking for a few other options? Get the scoop on some of the city's more established spots below!
The Standard Club Open to candidates 21 years of age and older with three existing member referrals, this 145-year-old club offers a state-of-the-art health club and indoor pool, cozy cocktail lounge, and full-service lunch and dinner. You’ll also gain access to The Drake Hotel’s Club International, the Chicago Yacht Club, Idlewild Golf, and 250 reciprocal clubs across the country. Price upon request.
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The Standard Club, 6230 Abbotts Bridge Road; 770-497-0055.
The University Club
Requiring three existing member referrals and a university or college degree, this decades-old club skips the old-time stuffiness for a fitness center, pool, golf center, squash courts, and a pool hall. Dine or drink among four amazing dining venues, including an outdoor terrace for summer dining and a cozy fireplace library during the winter. Members can mingle at monthly events or through "societies" geared toward writers, photographers, and new parents. There's even a nap room for daily grind getaways. $136 per month for under 30-year-old members; $200-plus for over 30.
The University Club, 76 East Monroe Street (between Michigan and Wabash avenues); 312-726-2840.
East Bank Club
More than just a gym, this exclusive health facility also has a see-and-be-seen pool open to members in the summertime, plus an onsite bar and restaurant, Maxwell's, as well as AV-equipped event space for parties, rehearsal dinners, and presentations. $180 per month for individuals; $310 for couples; $130 for 22 to 25-year-old members.
East Bank Club, 500 North Kingsbury Street; 312-527-5800.
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