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4 new private members’ clubs aim to attract hip, young creatives

The scene is challenging for private members' clubs, but two new ones - 1880 and Straits Clan - are confident of their offerings and identity

Are you a creative, maker, doer, dreamer, entrepreneur, activist, high achiever or iconoclast?

Well, the Straits Clan wants you. This private members’ club, opening next year when it takes over the New Majestic Hotel premises in Bukit Pasoh Road, has an ideal profile of future members. In an online job posting for an executive chef at the club, the club members are described as a “network” of the aforementioned movers and shakers.

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  • awgoh
    The mural painting on the facade of the 112-year-old Goh Loo Club at 72 Club Street. The mural was added during the renovation and features the faces of the Goh Loo Club's late members and Chinese revolutionary figure Sun Yat Sen. It was painted by Singaporean artists Benny Ong, Zhao Jian Wen and Didier Ng, and is meant to depict what the club was like when dignitaries visited. The club premises – a 998 sq m, three-storey shophouse at 72 Club Street that was gazetted for conservation in July 1989 – underwent a 16-month renovation. It was completed in April 2016 at a cost of $3.8 million.

Never mind what the screening process for that may actually entail. The fact is that a new breed of cool, boutique private members’ clubs is opening in Singapore, designed to appeal to a creative, yuppie class.

Unlike the more traditional private members’ clubs, such as Tanglin Club and Singapore Cricket Club, which attract middle- and upper-middle-class business elites or expatriates, the new enclaves are more “indie” in spirit.

Breaking the stuffy template of old boys’ clubs, these new ones do not promise huge golf courses or Olympic-size pools. Rather, they have a more stylish, compact space catered to niche lifestyle interests of mobile, cosmopolitan members.

For example, instead of a jackpot room, they may have a screening room. Rather than a covers band singing by the pool, there will be edgier programming such as secret suppers.

For Straits Clan, the hip factor is multiplied by its retro setting – it is being housed in a building comprising four historic shophouses.

As with all private clubs, there is a membership fee, of course. But the most important criteria is not about money, but the potential member’s cool factor.

Take, for example, 1880, which will open later this year at Quayside@ Robertson Quay, a new mixed-use development in Nanson Road. Named after the decade in which Robertson Quay was opened, the 22,000 sq ft project features dining areas, a spa and an extensive calendar of events that includes secret suppers, exhibitions and parties.

The ideal member for 1880, says its Canada-born founder Marc Nicholson, is someone who is “curious, (has) integrity, creativity, individuality and authenticity”. These people, he adds, include artists, film-makers, angel investors, entrepreneurs and academics.

Wealth and status are not criteria for entry and the club will offer honorary membership to people its “membership panel” feels can contribute to it. Those under 30 enjoy a reduced rate from the $5,000 joining fee for Singapore-based members.

Nicholson, who is a Singapore permanent resident, says traditional clubs can be “enclaves of homogenous people barricading themselves behind walls of exclusivity”. At the new club, the 48-year-old says “the member aspect is more of a show of commitment, it is not a symbol of status or exclusivity”.

He hopes that the members of different backgrounds can come together to tap one another’s knowledge and expertise. “We want to inspire conversations that impact society in a positive way,” he says. “It’s a lofty statement. But I’m not being naive. It’s genuinely about diversity and inclusion, not about social climbing and status.”

The club started selling memberships last year, but declined to say how many have been taken up.

Although these new boutique clubs may shy away from talking business, they are in a tough and possibly waning industry.

On the one hand, they are tapping a different clientele from the old-school social and sporting clubs that have long histories and aspirational qualities, such as the Singapore Cricket Club in Connaught Drive, which was established in 1852; and the Singapore Polo Club in Mount Pleasant Road, which was founded in 1886.

On the other hand, the new clubs have a common problem as the old ones: There are many places to work, play and network outside of a club.

With condominiums putting in pools, gyms and clubhouses, social media apps where people can meet anyone and many good restaurants constantly popping up, the demand for private members’ clubs as a spot to socialise or network is falling, says veteran club membership broker and owner of Tee-Up Marketing Enterprises Fion Phua, who has been in the industry since 1990.

She is surprised by the new clubs popping up. Phua, 47, who does not sell membership for these new clubs, says: “Facilities aside, they need to have attractive programmes that cannot be found elsewhere if they are going to sustain themselves.”

So far, the private club scene has not been kind to newbies. Club 39, which screened prospective members by their personalities and lifestyle interests, did not survive its first year when it opened in 2015 in Duxton Hill.

This may explain why some new boutique clubs choose to fall back on the old club values of business networking.

The 10-month-old Madison Rooms in Coleman Street, for example, is “unabashedly business-focused”, says its co-owner Raj Datwani, 36. Pegged as a business lounge, Madison Rooms has meeting rooms, private spaces and work areas. It also has a restaurant and courtyard that will open in the next few weeks, though these are open to the public.

Owners of Bacchanalia restaurant Raj Datwani (left) and Alex Chew are opening a members-only business club called Madison Rooms. (Photo: ST)

Owners of Bacchanalia restaurant Raj Datwani (left) and Alex Chew opened a members-only business club called Madison Rooms.

Tiered membership ranges between $4,500 and $12,000 a year. Comprising corporate executives and business owners, members are, on average, in their early 40s. They get perks such as deals on flights on Etihad Airways. The club caps its by-invitation-only membership at 400.

Datwani says: “The other clubs are going for bigger bases, but we have an intimate space and members appreciate that.” He says there are plans to open two South-east Asian offshoots in the next 18 months.

(RELATED: We sat down with Datwani and partner Alex Chew, who were also behind popular EDM event Ultra Singapore.)

Still, there is no doubt that the two new clubs are confident of their identities and business propositions, being backed by some of Singapore’s well-known entrepreneurs in the lifestyle industries.

Straits Clan is founded by Aun Koh, co-founder of integrated communications agency The Ate Group; Sally Sim, who works in the hospitality industry with a background in private members’ clubs; and Wee Teng Wen, co-founder of hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group, which has dining concepts such as the two-Michelin-starred Odette at National Gallery Singapore.

Loh Lik Peng, founder of Unlisted Collection, the restaurant and hotel group which owns New Majestic Hotel, is now its landlord and an investor.

Meanwhile, 1880 has the backing of British furniture label Timothy Oulton, spirits distribution company Proof & Company and RB Capital, the landlord of Quayside@Robertson Quay. Nicholson is also chief executive officer of the two Truefitt & Hill Singapore barbershops, the local offshoots of the famed London chain.

Some of the club’s target audiences are beginning to bite. Lim Wanying, 34, associate director at private bank Julius Baer, bought a membership to 1880 late last year after she spoke to Nicholson. Although the club is not open yet, she can access its partner clubs such as the Devonshire Club in London.

She says she finds the team behind the club “inspirational”. She adds: “I believe it’s going to be very different from a traditional club. It’s not about who you are, but how interesting you are.”

01: Madison Rooms

  • The club is partitioned into several areas to accommodate groups of various sizes.

Where: 23A Coleman Street
Opened: Last year
What: This by-invitation-only business club is housed in the Masonic Hall. Group business meetings can take place at The Den, while The Sessionals offers a secluded enclave for confidential calls. There is also a library and work areas.

For pleasure, Madison Rooms offers a bar, cigar lounge and exclusive events. Other perks include competitive rates on business- and first-class flights on Etihad Airways and a year-long complimentary general concierge service with Quintessentially Lifestyle. Members can also use clubs overseas such as the South Kensington Club in London and The Mello House in Perth.

The club has said it will cap membership numbers at 400.

Membership prices: Tiered by-invite-only membership ranges from $4,500 a year to $12,000 a year.

02: 1880

Where: 1 Nanson Road
Opening: Third quarter of this year
What: Taking up the third floor of mixed-use developement Quayside@Robertson Quay in Nanson Road, this 22,000 sq ft club is a social club with a co-working space.

Executive chef Colin Buchan, formerly from Jason Atherton’s Pollen here, will handle the dining establishments and catering events. Members can hang out at a cafe that will be converted into a bar at night or head outdoors to the deck.

At the library, they can leave a book to share with others, or check into the spa, barbershop or salon.

Member benefits include concierge services, enrichment programmes and investment opportunities. Members can also visit overseas clubs such as the Devonshire Club in London and the Capital Club Dubai.

Membership prices: Joining fees for Singapore-based members costs $5,000. Members will either be invited or can request to be part of 1880.

03: Goh Loo Club

  • 72 Club Street, which houses Goh Loo Club, recently won the prestigious URA Architectural Heritage Awards, which recognises exceptional works in heritage building conservation and restoration.

Where: 72 Club Street
Opened: Late last year
What: The 112-year-old club was first formed as a gathering place for the local Chinese community.

It was revived again late last year and membership is capped at 250 people.

The club is looking to attract “individuals with passion for Singapore’s history and pioneers, Chinese cultural, local art, literature, education, health and philanthropy”.

(RELATED: Why founders Billy and Stephanie Lee want to preserve tradition with this club.)

Billy and Stephanie Lee

Billy and Stephanie Lee.

New members are invited by existing members and there is a committee which approves them.

While the club uses only part of the three-storey shophouse currently, there are plans to eventually use the whole building to hold activities and events with food and beverage, lifestyle, arts and culture partners.

Membership prices: Entrance fee is now $1,000 and is likely to increase when there are 150 members. The funds will go towards organising more activities.

4. Straits Clan

Where: 31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road
Opening: First half of next year
What: It will take over the premises of the New Majestic Hotel (above), which will close on June 1.

Straits Clan’s founders are tight-lipped about what facilities and programmes the club will offer and the type of members they are looking to attract.

However, an online job posting for an executive chef at Straits Clan revealed details such as three food and beverage outlets, including a gastropub and a modern Asian restaurant. There will also be a gym, a spa and an events hall.

Membership prices: A spokesman for Straits Clan declined to reveal prices as applications are not open yet.

Adapted from The Straits Times.