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Not Your Grandpa’s Members Club

In Denver, Rachel Smith turns the members-only club on its head. 

Photo courtesy of Jimena Peck

In 2022, when inclusion and diversity are more critical than ever, it’s only natural to question whether we still need members-only clubs, where exclusivity remains a premium selling point. For Rachel Smith, formerly the membership director at Clayton Members Club & Hotel, which opened in Denver’s tony Cherry Creek neighborhood last May, it is exactly this moment that makes them ripe for an upheaval. “We’re seeing just how important community is,” says Smith, who has recently taken on a consulting role at Clayton and other members club concepts around the country. “I see so much potential in these clubs because I’m an ardent fan of what a community can become with a little organization.”

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Smith cut her teeth overseeing membership, events and creative programming for the likes of Soho House and Sotheby’s. But she first discovered the uplifting power of community when she was selling jewelry online in the mid-aughts, competing against the likes of Barneys for the attention of affluent shoppers. The now-shuttered shop, which Smith had founded with her mother, became the entity around which 55 clients developed a tight-knit community. “These women formed a traveling support group for each other,” Smith says, adding that being part of it was the most moving thing she’s done. “It showed me how community can help people.” 

All of this informs the work Smith is doing at Clayton, where she hopes to chip away at the old practices of members-only clubs. For instance, membership here isn’t based on self-selecting criteria like profession, income or network. It’s built on five pillars: curiosity, fun, authenticity, generosity and inclusion; each potential member has to embody them to be accepted. For Smith, a modern-day club should be more than just a place where you host meetings or sip after-work whiskey. The space should instead be defined by its members’ ability to create culture that upholds those pillars. Anyone who aspires to do so can be a Clayton member, even if they can’t afford the full price of membership. “Maybe you’re gonna do DJ sets, moderate events or teach a class,” Smith says, regarding how someone might be able to make up what they can’t pay. “It’s equally important to have people who want to be active members.”

She also didn’t want Clayton to become a secret space that fails to interact with the city around it. Denver’s diversity is championed within the walls of the club: There’s a local advisory and curatorial board that counsels on Clayton initiatives and charity collaborations. The walls feature art by Denverites like Ron Hicks and his thought-provoking oil paintings. And the space itself is used for everything from dance parties and bazaars that spotlight local creatives to documentary screenings about the trans experience and consultation sessions with lawyers for anyone (member or not) who needs it. For Smith, this community-first ethos means that the people of Denver should benefit from Clayton, too, because, yes, members-clubs used to be exclusive places, but they don’t have to be. “To be wrapped up in yourself, not recognizing your impact on the people around you, that’s something in the old model of members clubs that we can leave behind.” 

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​​The Next Generation of Members-Only Clubs

Move over, Soho House! Clayton Members Club & Hotel is just one of many club-hotel hybrids that are sweeping the hospitality industry. Here are four more to check into.

Carlyle & Co at Rosewood Hong Kong

Photo courtesy of Carlyle & Co.

Rosewood’s first foray into this category aims to shake off the stuffy reputation private clubs have enjoyed for centuries without sacrificing over-the-top luxury. This 25,000-square-foot sanctuary perched over the hotel dedicates spaces for music, games, wine and a tailor. There’s also a private floor that houses eight individually designed bedrooms exclusively for members and their guests. 

The Curtain at Mondrian Shoreditch

Photo by Niall Clutton

A 24-hour gym, a coworking lounge that transforms into an event venue at night, an atmospheric old-world bar and a rooftop hangout with a pool are just some of the amenities at this Goddard Littlefair-designed East London hotspot, which resuscitates the 2017 hotel-cum-club of the same name. Of-the-moment happenings like cabarets and wellness workshops fill up the social calendar. 

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The Britely at Pendry West Hollywood

Photo by Christian Horan Photography

At the Britely, renowned designer Martin Brudnizki cloaks every inch in his signature style of color and excess; Wolfgang Puck oversees the dining program; there’s a lounge for live events and a stylish bowling alley. Sadly, hotel guests rarely have access to any of it, including the breathtaking (and potentially vertigo-inducing) yoga sessions on the helipad. 

Tesserae at Thompson Buckhead

Photo courtesy of Tesserae

In Atlanta’s newest club, you’ll want to be invited to one of the “secret suppers,” during which an intimate group of strangers are treated to networking events, from chef’s dinners to film screenings and rousing panel discussions. Local philanthropy is also a major focus here. In addition to donating a percentage of membership fees to three charities, the team at Tesserae is committed to volunteer work.

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