21 Mar

The Anatomy of City Clubs

Past, Present, and Future

City clubs date back as far as the 17th century. Before their inception, coffee houses were the go-to place for scholars and politicians to discuss social issues of the world. Often, the mix of personalities, opinions, political agendas—and presumably, the added caffeine—resulted in considerable discourse. Soon, a members-only policy was established as a way to control and limit the conversation.

The first members-only club broke ground in London—quickly dominating the social scene—and it wasn’t long before they became a mainstay in urban areas of America, too. Today, the specific number of operating private clubs can’t be found by way of an internet search—but our firm alone has worked with 400 individual clubs since our first private club client in 1941 … and while this number also includes country clubs and golf clubs, it serves as a strong indication of how deep the roots of these member-only institutions go. It begs the question: is there still opportunity for growth?



City clubs have survived multiple generations, economic hardships, changing lifestyles, and the like. If struck by a natural disaster, they rebuild—and often come back stronger than before. Unlike many things throughout history, city clubs have remained a constant of urban America. Their doors are open, their traditions are strong, and if they’re certain of one thing—it’s that they’re here to stay.

While originally designed with a focus on personal betterment and business, city clubs today have shifted their focus to socialization, family, and less stringent rules—ultimately creating spaces for multiple generations to flourish. In 2017, Chambers conducted a survey that included some of the U.S. and Canada’s most prestigious private city clubs. Reports concluded that banquets generate about 52% of their overall F&B revenue each year. Additionally, 90% of respondents have experienced an increase in F&B revenue in the last 3-5 years, with the average increase around 3-4%; and of those clubs who have experienced an increase, 89% reported seeing increased utilization of their F&B venues.

Some of the changes that contributed to these increases include: a new philosophy of local organic products and fitness-oriented menus, creating and/or enhancing a rooftop patio, renovating dining areas, and expanding services leading to an increase in the number of covers. In short, they’ve succeeded by evolving.

As we continue to see shifts in lifestyle trends, members are changing the way they wish to utilize their club—especially with regard to formal vs. more casual usage. Chambers’ 2017 survey results also indicated that 80% of city clubs are moving toward a more casual approach to club dining and 67% of city clubs witness members use their club’s F&B venues more spontaneously.

If these numbers indicate anything it’s that city clubs are responding to member desires … and it’s paying off. Cities evolve much faster than suburban neighborhoods—and this fact alone presents more challenges for city clubs than their country club counterpart. They must remain inventive without cutting off the very roots that enabled them to grow so large. And while that’s a tough sea to navigate, their willingness to adapt speaks for itself.



As mentioned in his article, “Designing Ahead: 10 City Club Trends on the Rise”, Chambers’ Director of Interior Design, Charlie Turner, states that “cities lead by a wonderful example when they evolve; they constantly grow and enhance their offerings while still speaking to the unique culture of their respective neighborhoods. And it only makes sense that city clubs do the same.” To speak to that exact point, in the last year, this list of trends has grown even further.

On that list, you’ll find open kitchens, hyperlocal menus, opportunities for informal interactions, all-day rooms, and much more. Concepts like these are becoming more and more prevalent in private city clubs across the globe and will only continue to do so. And when looking to the future—well, there’s no limit to creativity. City clubs like Soho House and Fitler Club have taken these concepts to the next level.  These aspirational clubs are backed by budgets as large as their imagination, and while not all trends can be implemented right away, they’re something we should all be thinking about when planning for the future. Within many of these “clubs of tomorrow” you’ll find:

  • Co-working Business Spaces and Amenities. Otherwise known as a “work from home” opportunity within your Club and an expansion of the ever-popular, Executive Business Lounge. By providing varied seating and table arrangements, office suites, meeting room rentals, office equipment, storage, 24/7 access, and modern décor–members will want to kiss their home office goodbye indefinitely. Examples of such spaces are already being implemented at city clubs like Fitler Club and Spring Place (as pictured below).
  • Complete Wellness. While city clubs began incorporating fitness facilities a few years ago, there has been a shift in the way people view “wellness” today. More than just a cardio station, clubs should consider embracing fitness in a way that focuses on complete wellness—including a sound body and mind. Clubs like Equinox Fitness, The St. James, and our recent client, Oxford Athletic Club have embraced this concept wholeheartedly by stitching all aspects of self-care into their fabric. Bigger isn’t always better—but more will always be, more. And providing ample wellness offerings can help strengthen your membership in more ways than one.
  • Niche and lifestyle Clubs. Many city clubs are moving in this direction to ensure they’re catering to the next generation. Niche and lifestyle clubs like Soho House and Spring Place speak to the young, city-dwelling creative class, providing beautiful spaces in which to be young and creative together. And with a wealth of options, these clubs are a one-stop shop for all who hold a key.

What do members see upon entering your club? What opportunities for socialization, dining, and the like do they have? How will they be greeted and how long will they stay? Will they want to bring guests? These questions are important to ask yourself on a consistent basis. In order to create the city club of tomorrow, one must think ahead.


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