2nd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas

Business Club

Much as typewriters and black coffee have given way to computers and cappuccinos, old-style business clubs are morphing into modern-day dwellings of the Gen X set. Tech heads and creative types alike are taking to the part bar, part restaurant, part social-scene atmosphere of such clubs.

Work and socializing happily co-mingle at London's Soho House, a members-only enclave for trendsetters in the film and art worlds. Opened in 1995, the 3,000-member Soho House is complete with a 25-seat theater, bars, lounges, meeting rooms and a restaurant. "The greatest challenge is to [stay] refreshed," says owner Nick Jones, 37, "to keep reinventing [ourselves], and to never get conceited by the fact that we've got lots of people who want to join us-we know that [doesn't] mean we can take our focus off the day-to-day operations."

Nor can clubs forgo technology. As new business and social clubs pop up worldwide, older clubs are refocusing on technological advancements. The 1,300-member City Club on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles has recently added T1 Internet access, videoconferencing and wireless technology in its meeting rooms. Says general manager Larry Ahlquist, "We have to continuously create the environment that will make our members feel they have the competitive advantage at their fingertips."

The 1,600-member Plaza Club in Honolulu has undergone the same metamorphosis. Says manager Bryan Larrow, "Business entertaining has come a long way [since 1979] when the club was first opened, and productivity is just as important as camaraderie." The consensus? Opening a business club is not easy, but serving the elite members-only crowd has its perks.

Explains Jones, "If you're going to serve food and drinks, it's much nicer to serve it to people you like."

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 2nd Annual Million-Dollar Ideas.

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