Hey, join the club. Once the territory of British men with names like Rupert Scrivener and Nigel Pemberton-Smith, private members’ clubs have recently proliferated and been (sort of) democratized here in the U.S. There is now one for every type of urbanite with roughly $2,000 per year to spend on a nicely appointed coworking space that offers $15 cocktails. Do you live in the Bay Area, underwrite start-ups, and wear a hoodie embroidered with the logo of the most notable example? Perhaps you will enjoy the Battery, which offers an extensive wine cellar and hosts lectures on the Astrological Forecast for 2017. Are you an entrepreneurially minded woman who appreciates color-coordinated bookshelves and light-pink daybeds? Welcome to the Wing, “a home base for women on their way” in Manhattan.
All this, of course, largely began with Soho House. Founded by a Brit, Nick Jones, the company’s portfolio has grown to 18 clubs around the world in places such as Miami, Berlin, and Istanbul. The latest addition is Ludlow House, a former gold-leaf factory on New York’s Lower East Side that is, according to its website, “a private members’ club for people in the creative industries” and also “a space for eating, drinking, and meeting.” On a glittering winter morning, the parlor room at Ludlow was lit like a speakeasy, its mellow glow augmented by the blue light of many, many MacBook Airs. A recent and completely unscientific survey conducted by me suggests that “freelance creative director” is a leading occupation among Ludlow House members, many of whom use the club as an alternative to working from home. A friend and freelance fashion stylist put it this way when I ran into her at Lou’s Kitchen & Bar on the club’s second floor: “It gets me out of the house and into more than just my underwear.”
I was there for similar reasons. As a novelist and editor of a semi-annual magazine at The Wall Street Journal, I have a lot to do and not a lot of places in which I like to do it. Editing features at my desk in the newsroom requires noise-cancelling headphones and a constant stream of minimal techno. My apartment is a temple of distractions; coffee shops are for questionable first dates. When Ludlow House opened in my neighborhood, I thought, finally. Early renderings showed serene-looking spaces, plenty of laptop-friendly, desk-height real estate, and comfortable-looking chairs. Was this where I’d finish my thriller and assign my lineup?
The Soho House properties share a plush, dark, clubby aesthetic, and Ludlow House is no exception. Most of the velour chairs and couches were occupied when I showed up, and the atmosphere—chatty, flirty, slightly buzzing—may have been better suited to networking and brainstorming than actual work. The scene reminded me of college study sessions conducted when exams were still a long way off—but with better drinks. Members took their serious-sounding phone calls into the central stairwell, away from the strains of Vampire Weekend, Beck, and The National (the playlist tends toward what my friend describes as “white-wine rock”). The food was perfectly fine; “offend no one” seemed to be principle of both the menu and the artwork that covers the walls, although the “I’M SICK OF MAKING ART” poster seems a little on the nose.
My first reaction was: I will probably not produce anything of lasting value here. But then, just as general productivity took a nosedive, I finally hit my stride. It was 6 p.m., and the lights went down as the music went up in tempo and volume. Colorful beverages seemed to multiply on the tables around me. There was a distinct tie-loosening vibe, although no actual ties were worn, per Soho House’s “no corporate attire” policy. I was about to call it a day, but decided to fix one last shaky transition instead. Maybe it was the low lighting, or the sustained effort of blocking out an increasingly barlike atmosphere, but something sent me into a kind of trance. I came out of it almost two hours later having written some sentences of which I was not ashamed.
I started looking forward to my solo cocktail-hour work sessions after that. The experience served as an important reminder: Being able to concentrate and execute in a sea of distractions is an essential for navigating the gig economy, the contemporary workplace, and modern life in general. At any given computer, we are two clicks and a WiFi connection from the sum total of human knowledge, memes, and porn. Think of the ability to resist these temptations as your productivity muscle, one that can atrophy if not exercised. The atmosphere at Ludlow House inspired me to dig a little deeper. The results have so far been pretty damn good. And when quitting time finally comes around, there’s a full bar on every floor. That is all to say, I’m in.