Peter Lane Taylor
Apr 25, 2023,12:00pm EDT
When I started thinking about all of the angles from which to write this story, I kept coming back to the need for admission.
I grew up going to private clubs. Sorry. Golf or tennis lessons in the morning. Marco Polo in the pool in the afternoon. Dinners in a blue blazer, white button down, and khakis with my grandparents promptly at 6:00 pm, followed by bingo and maybe some ballroom dancing lessons at the beach.
That was a long time ago—when most private clubs, and their members, tried to stay under the radar.
The Elwood Club – Dining Room – Rendering – One of multiple lounges and restaurants at The Elwood Club by Pendry Hotel & Resorts
More recently, however, words like “private”, “curated”, and “bespoke” have become standard lexicon for a new generation of real estate developments, hotels, and resorts that all profess to offer the next best you-can’t-get-in-here-unless-you-know-someone enclave—which in turn drives reservations-you-can’t-get, waitlists, and, ultimately, HNWFOMO (“high-net worth fear of missing out”).
The private club business is a pretty awesome model when you think about it—especially when your clients tend to have two or three houses already and a generally unlimited “pleisure” (“pleasure + leisure”) budget: fractionalize exclusivity, foster envy, restrain supply, make money.
All that said, I have pretty good antennae on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to what’s behind the “Members Only” sign.
In a lot instances, a club’s gravity comes from its physical facilities as much as its actual location—like golf at the Abaco Club in the Bahamas or lawn tennis at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, America’s first country club established back in 1854.
For other clubs, it’s the “list” that matters most—like Montana’s Yellowstone Club, Manhattan’s Brook Club, or the Jupiter Island Club in South Florida, whose membership includes dozens of PGA Tour pros along with most of America’s titans of industry. Then there are the yacht clubs. The dinner clubs. The gambling clubs. The arts clubs. And so on.
And yet, the reality of it all is that even as the world prints more millionaires and billionaires every day, it generally doesn’t need more private clubs—in large measure because my generation (X) as well as the Millennials and Gens Y and Z coming hot on our heels into their prime earning years don’t seem as inclined to drop $20,000 – $50,000 a year propping up their club sports and social lives as our parents and grandparents did.
Ergo, even as most private clubs’ waiting lists have swelled since the pandemic, I’ve begun to wonder over the past few years: are days at the club—and the social cohesion and business relationships forged by them—a dying breed?
That was my thesis, at least—until I started talking to Mike Fuerstman, co-founder of Pendry Hotels & Resorts, who’s betting that the glory days, culture, and traditions of the private club are back, better, and more relevant than ever.
This week, Pendry is formally introducing The Elwood Club—a newly-minted, modern members club steeped in the classic customs of luxury hospitality and born into the lineage of Montage and Pendry Hotels & Resorts.
At its core, The Elwood Club is a perpetual daily celebration—of music, art, travel, fashion, food, drink, wellness, and sport based on an unrivaled collection of venues for its members, including a private restaurant and bar with garden terrace, a swanky cabaret and bar, a pub with a golf simulator and screening room, a members only boardroom, and a rarified gallery of art pulling each space together. The inaugural and flagship Elwood Club will be located in its own private wing of Pendry Newport Beach and is slated open late summer 2023.
“We created The Elwood Club to connect with and enhance the lives of the locals who give life and energy to our Pendry hotels,” says Fuerstman. “We wanted to build a membership and a lifestyle beyond what’s possible at a standard private club, to imagine a world of hospitality and cherished spaces to entertain, unwind, and connect from day to evening, in a way that is deeper and more personal. While The Elwood Club will feature high design spaces and exciting and innovative programming, we are most excited about building community, connecting people, and adding value to our members’ lives.”
The Elwood Club – The Cabaret – Rendering
In order to build that sense of connection, Fuerstman and his dad, Alan, who founded Montage Hotels & Resorts back in 2002, made it their mission to deconstruct the existing private club model down to its elemental parts, since that’s always been the Montage and Pendry way—perfection through service, design, delivery, culture, cuisine, and community.
What they quickly came to understand—partly because they already manage some of the most exclusive clubs in America like The Spanish Peaks Club in Big Sky, Montana and the Cornerstone Club in Colorado—is that the success of any private-members-only-anything is as much about taking advantage of a moment in time as it is about leveraging a sense of place.
“It’s such an interesting moment right now coming out of Covid, where people recognize the importance of being social, in connecting with one another, in having a sense of belonging,” says Mike of The Elwood Club’s genesis moment. “We’re social creatures. Now, more than ever, members clubs have sense of purpose. In that sense we felt compelled to create The Elwood Club—a modern twist on the age-old members club, an extension of our hospitality culture, and as a place for our best guests to build community and spend time with one another.”
For Alan and Mike, The Elwood Club was also an exercise in reimagining what a private club could be in the first place by approaching its programming, culture, and design with a sense of reinvention rather than replication.
That began with one of real estate’s essential adages: location, location.
“Our inaugural and flagship Elwood Club will be opening in a private wing of the Pendry Newport Beach, which makes this endeavor very personal for my dad and me,” Mike says. “Newport is our hometown. Southern California is where Montage and Pendry were born in one of the most iconic beach towns in the U.S. That inspired us to take advantage of a massive opportunity that we saw in the market for us to create something more contemporary, more artistic, an anchor for members’ social lives, with an even greater emphasis on evening programming and entertainment that people crave compared with traditional country clubs.”
Pendry Newport Beach
Mike and Alan Fuerstman’s other core vision with Elwood Club was to draw inspiration from the pedigree of the world’s finest and most exclusive clubs and respect the past—stylistically, architecturally, culturally, culinarily, and most of all, socially.
“We looked to a lot of places, including some of our own clubs that we manage, for inspiration for The Elwood Club,” says Mike. “I think the members club scene in London is fascinating. The best of these clubs are classic yet playful, embrace stunning architecture and design, and focus on the evening social scene: dinner, after dinner drink, nightly entertainment. We love the intimacy and feeling of a great meal at a neighborhood restaurant that these places offer, and we’re going to incorporate a number of surprise and delight little touches throughout the Elwood Club that are riffs on some of the best moments we’re experienced in our travels. But ultimately what we are building is original. It’s the best of a city club and a resort, with architecturally impressive spaces, and really sophisticated programming. Membership will be premium and the amenities are highly curated including a pool, spa, kids club, wellness and fitness, to multiple dining, carousing, and entertaining venues, all with our service culture and attention to detail.”
Most of all when it came to turning their vision for The Elwood Club into a reality Mike and his dad also had the advantage of experience.
Pendry—and by extension The Elwood Club—has always had the hospitality DNA of Montage International behind it, which for more than two decades has set a new standard for design and service tailored to today’s cultured world traveler.
So, in keeping with that essence—the ability to shape places that create memories in spaces inspired by service culture and rooted in classic hospitality—everything about The Elwood Club start to finish top to bottom is an expression of generational heritage, rich in a tradition of hosting, yet shaken and stirred with a strong dose California individuality and sensibility.
“At the core of what we do is the notion of taking care of people, creating environments and experiences that move people and make them feel something,” says Mike. “The Elwood Club is therapeutic. People need an escape and a sanctuary from the grind of the day to day. We’ve done this for twenty years in our hotels and resorts. To have the opportunity to do it in a membership club, to impact our guests every day, feels even more intimate and personal. We’re honored to create such a place with The Elwood Club.”
For more information on The Elwood Club or to explore the benefits of membership, visit www.elwoodclub.com or follow @elwoodclub
TynanGroup is the Project Manager on the Pendry Newport Beach Renovation Project – providing full Project Management, FF&E and OS&E, and Project Accounting Services.