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Members only: Behind the door of Dublin's exclusive drinking and dining clubs

We look at how the private members’ clubs of the capital are faring in 2018.

Residence, which closed its doors this month
Residence, which closed its doors this month
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

LAST WEEK, IT was announced that Residence, a recession-era private members club located on Dublin’s Stephen’s Green, had been acquired by the Press Up Entertainment Group and would cease being a members-only club upon reopening.

“We are currently in the process of renovating the building with the aim of opening a brand new business in a few months’ time,” a spokesperson for Press Up confirmed.

“We won’t have any element of membership for the new offering. We look forward to welcoming everyone. We pride ourselves on the fact that all our venues are welcoming, inclusive and friendly, so this will be the exact same.”

Residence opened its doors in 2008. It positioned itself as a space where people of a certain ilk could mingle and network. All in exchange for an annual membership fee of €1,600, of course.

It was part of a spate of members’ clubs that opened around that time. Odessa Club, The Sycamore and Krystle were among those to tout members-only areas in exchange for hefty subscription fees. Incompatible with the new economic climate, many of these soon fell by the wayside and opened themselves to the general public.

While the club formerly known as Residence may soon be discarding membership fees in favour of a more “inclusive” vibe, there are several private members’ clubs that continue to operate in the city.

New gaff #Dublin

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United Arts Club

For instance, there’s United Arts Club, a social club for artists and writers located on Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Street. Its founding members include WB Yeats and Countess Markievicz. The club, which was once featured on an episode of RTÉ’s At Your Service, offers memberships for anything from €190 to €600.

Those wishing to join must be proposed and seconded by two existing members. Once you are granted admission, you are free to visit the members’ bar and attend the club’s events.

Not far away is the Royal Irish Automobile Club. The club dates from 1901 and occupies a building on Dawson Street. It boasts two restaurants, a bar, and a library. As of 2015, subscription fees ranged in price from €195 to €980, depending on your age, location, and status within the club.

Between rigorous admissions processes and significant fees, afternoon teas and valeted parking, such clubs can seem as though they’re from a different era entirely.

So how are they faring in 2018? Are they thriving or merely surviving? And just how are they pitching themselves to the younger generation?

The Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club bills itself as “your home in the city since 1840”.

It’s arguably the most luxurious of all the members’ clubs in Dublin, boasting twelve bedroom suites for members to stay in, fine dining, meeting rooms and use of ten clubs within the club. (Snooker, reading, racing, theatre – that kind of thing.)

There are events like rugby brunches, summer barbecues and galas organised year-round. Additionally, members are allowed to use facilities at over 200 reciprocal clubs worldwide, a longstanding perk and feature of private members’ club culture.

Ray Mooney is the CEO and secretary manager of the club. He says that the club continues to attract new members based on its history and longevity.

Most members are professional types working in business, finance, law and IT. Younger members tend to be entrepreneurial types. “Not fixed to a desk,” he says.

Memberships are said to range from €700 to €2,000. During the economic downturn, the uptake in membership slowed.

“Everyone suffered, including ourselves,” explains Mooney. “We were not open for new entrants for a while during the downturn and while we were regenerating, repairing and preparing for the upturn, we were not overrun with new applicants.”

“But that’s changed. We are open for new members and continue to be busy processing new applications for some time now.”

“The lifeblood for any true private or member owned club is its ability to retain existing members and attract suitable new ones.”

A city club might seem like an unnecessary extravagance on the surface. Unlike a golf club, say, it doesn’t even offer access to leisure facilities.

But Mooney says such clubs still retain a certain appeal for the professional class, in part because of their exclusive nature and the discretion afforded to members.

“Some consider it a must-have, as a place to do business in a private, safe and professional manner, to entertain and be entertained,” he says. “The perceived extravagance is naturally a part of club culture and this sets us apart from any public places.”

But he’s quick to point out that they aren’t stuffy affairs either.

Asked about misconceptions, he says that outsiders can be under the impression that they are “not fun, unwelcoming or impossible to join”.

“All misconceptions,” he says. “Very far from true in most cases. They’re more inclusive than you think.”

Plenty of seats at the table.

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The Wing, a women’s club in New York

In other cities, the notion of private members’ clubs has experienced a resurgence of sorts. In 2016, The Wing opened a club in New York City. Popular with millennials, it bills itself as a women’s club and offers members access to work spaces, showering facilities, cocktails and on-demand blow drys, among other things. Endorsed by the likes of Tavi Gevinson and Hari Nef, annual subscription fees run to about $3,000.

Similarly, Shoreditch House in London is a converted warehouse that boasts a rooftop pool, spa, bars, and more. Once again, it’s aimed at young city folk and freelancers looking for a spot to work. Membership reportedly costs £1,100 per annum.

We’ve now officially opened our doors, welcome to @9.below

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9 Below

Mooney says that clubs have been forced to adapt and evolve with the times.

“City clubs now have a range of services and bespoke offerings to specific target audience as any professional business would,” he says. “Concierge services, special events, clubs within the club, gyms, creches, business facilities, barbers, hair salons, use of technology, high-end dining and more services are becoming the norm.”

For their part, the Hibernian Club is opening a basement bar that will be open to members of the public. (As it possesses a members’ club licence, Hibernian Club can only admit members and their guests.) 9 Below is a high-end cocktail bar that feels straight out of Mad Men. Less pints, more martinis.

Such ventures help secure the club’s future and attract new entrants, says Mooney.

“It empowers the members and the owners to strive for a healthy business model and creates quality and luxury for members on the back of it, always putting members first.”

The beginning of a new era, so.

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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