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.”