What do a serial entrepreneur, a professional matchmaker, a professional matchmaker, and a media personality have in common? Not too much, and that’s the whole point. They are part of the diverse group of people that gather at swanky members’ club 1880’s weekly salon sessions to discuss pressing topics of the modern world (eg how dating apps have dramatically altered romance) – fueled by handcrafted cocktails and moderated by founder Marc Nicholson (the entrepreneur).
Fostering such free-flowing dialogue is one of the main aims of the new wave of members’ clubs here. These include Straits Clan, which bills itself as a modern-day clan, and Goh Loo CLub, a 113-year-old business club that recently revamped to focus on promoting cultural, social and charitable activities with a contemporary twist.
“We want to ignite conversations between people who have never met before, through dialogues, sharing sessions or fun mixers,” says Aun Koh, a co-founder of Straits Clan. There’s also a “members relationship personnel” that brings like-minded members together (think of it as networking sans the guesswork). The club has lined up talks by Matthieu Ricard, molecular geneticist-turned-Buddhist monk and best-selling author), and Danny Meyer, the New York restaurateur behind burger joint Shake Shack.
On the cards at Goh Loo Club is a charity exhibition. Secret Language, by fashion designer Benny Ong, featuring “nushu” artworks in July. Stephanie Lee, part of the team spearheading the Club’s restoration and revamp, explains that such curated exhibitions are part of the club’s agenda to promote Chinese heritage to the younger set. “What’s special is that it’s a space that retains its historical elements, and yet provides a platform for promoting social, educational and charitable events activities to commemorate and continue the legacy of Singapore’s pioneers in nation building,” she says.
Other trappings to draw in the younger generation – and those uninterested in country club facilities like golf courses and swimming pools – include Insta-worthy spaces for members to luxuriate in. Both 1880 and Straits Clan have facilities like spa treatment rooms and studio space where boutique brands including Ritual and Level hold fitness classes. There are also co-working spaces so members, many of whom are digital nomads, can seamlessly transition from work to play.
To round it off: hip F&B concepts. The Lo & Behold Group-managed Straits Clan has a cocktail bar, Asian-inspired comfort bowls, and surf and turf: 1880’s main restaurant Leonie’s by executive chef Colin Buchan offers elegant comfort fare, while its bar has Slovakian bartender Rusty Cerven, who previously worked at The Connaught and The Gibson in London.
While international clubs like Soho House have been criticised for being exclusive, the founders here aim to foster a spirit of community and inclusivity. For now at least, the clubs are keeping membership costs reasonable – compared to classic country clubs – to ensure that income isn’t a barrier to joining (at 1880, for instance, prices start at $7,000 while subscription costs $2,000 per year). There’s also an element of democracy in applying for membership, as interested applicants can simply do so online, although an in-house committee has final say.
The formula seems to be working, with members saying they love that these spaces allow such social interactions. Jia Li Tan, a market developer for a venture capital firm and member at Straits Clan says: “I feel comfortable introducing myself and striking up conversations with people I meet here, while I might think twice about doing so elsewhere.”
#1: Straits Clan
Where: 31 Bukit Pasoh Road
Open since: Last month (March 2018), taking over the former New Majestic Hotel along the “street of clans”.
Who’s behind it: Wee Teng Wen aka co-founder and managing partner if The Lo & Behold Group and food PR maven Aun Koh, co-founder of hospitality company members Members Only Hospitality.
Typical member profile: Tastemakers from the creative, lifestyle and wellness industries who have appeared – or most likely will appear in the pages of this magazine.
The decor: The four-storey heritage building had a modern tropical mid-century makeover by design maestros Takenouchi Webb. Expect glammed up versions of nostalgic elements reminiscent of old HDB flats – think rattan lounge concrete ventilation blocks, terrazzo tiles and lush indoor landscaping.
Standout facilities: Tropicana, a party suite built with a dancing pole: two private state-of-the-art karaoke rooms with touchscreen consoles: an old-school arcade room + photo booth that opens into a secret tasting room.
Membership quirks: You can apply for membership, but you won’t be able to buy your way in with money: the membership committee hold the final approval. In Wee’s own words, they want “innovation leaders, change-makers, and passionate architects of possibilities”.
Join it because: You’re looking for a lifestyle and entertainment hub where you can easily strike up conversations and forge friendships with some of Singapore’s creative movers and shakers.
Where: 1 Nanson Road
Open since: Last December, on the third floor of the Robertson Quay project development.
Who’s behind it: Singapore-based serial entrepreneur Marc Nicholson, who also launched luxury barbershop Truefitt & Hill in Singapore.
Typical member profile: Well-heeled, informed, globetrotting entrepreneurs, tech and corporate types, including expats and locals who have made a mark in their respective industries.
The decor: Quirky meets elegant luxe as imagined by Timothy Oulton Studio. Highlights include a massive 1.5 tonne rose quartz crystal from Madagascar that doubles as the reception table, a “cabinet of curiosities” comprising antique collectibles from Oulton’s private collection, and a driftwood eight-seater dubbed “Bird’s Nest” on the roof terrace.
Standout facilities: Recovery Room, which is artfully concealed behind wooden panels and decked out with buttery soft leather sofas; Spitfire-clad aluminium phone booths lined with quilted silk for a private phone conversation: and Bardo, a co-working phone.
Membership quirks: Get referred by a member or write in to apply, with the membership committee giving final approval. Founder Nicholson says members are “creative, curious and passionate”. They are adventure-seekers who challenge the status quo,” he adds.
Join it because: You thrive on meeting new faces and striking up scintillating conversation with people from all walks of life.
#3: Goh Loo Club
Where: 72 Club Street
Open since: 1905 – it is one of the original members’ clubs and counts founding citizens including Lim Boon Keng and Lee Kong Chian as members.
Who’s behind it: Stephanie Lee, a fourth generation club member who spearheaded the millennial redevelopment of the club.
Typical member profile: Established Chinese businessmen and their new gen descendants.
The decor: Living museum meets modern update. A 16-month renovation by architecture firm Artprentice restored key areas such as the buildings’ louvered windows, to their original glory, while historic Chinese paintings and calligraphy (including a couplet scroll gifted by Lin Sen, the former President of China) and chinoiserie artefacts, such as three-sided mahjong tables, pay homage to the club’s roots.
Standout facilities: The members-only clubhouse on the third floor of the building is decked out with comfortable lounge chairs and a multi-purpose events space for recreational activities such as calligraphy workshops, music performances, and art exhibitions.
Membership quirks: Currently by referral only, but the club is considering a membership drive later this year.
Join it because: You are interested in learning about traditional and modern aspects of Chinese culture from the experts and masters of their respective crafts.
Photography Zaphs Zhang & Darren Chang Art Direction Adeline Eng
This story first appeared in Female’s April 2018 issue.
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