On the Value of Secret Clubs

Posted: February 10, 2010 in Braak
Tags: ,

I am snowed into the house today, and so have little to do but puzzle around things.  I will consider a plan right now, you guys can tell me what you think of it.

I suspect it’s a plan uniquely useful to me, as I am a person that disdains the idea of having things.  I do have things, of course, but I get rid of them whenever I can, and am always looking for the opportunity to get by with fewer.

Remember back in the old days, when they had “clubs” that men joined?  And you’d go there and eat dinner and drink, basically just hang out until all hours of the morning? I find this idea interesting.

So, what if I didn’t open up a bar at all.  What if, instead, I scraped some money together and bought a big house, or an old industrial space I could convert.  I outfitted it with:  some living rooms–lounge-type areas with futons and large televisions; a large kitchen with ample storage space for foodstuffs; a keg (or two) of beer; a few coffee machines; a small weight room; two or three comfortable bathrooms with showers; maybe a small recording room (depending on the size and nature of the space, this could be easier or more difficult); a high-speed internet connection with a few wireless routers.

Instead of selling beer and coffee to people, what happens is this:  you apply for membership, and pay a certain amount of money per month.  Let’s say, $100.  When you are a member, you get a key to the house, and can come and go as you please.  Any hour of the day or night, you can come to the lounge and watch television, you can use the internet, you can lift some weights.  If you have a band, you can practice in the band room.  If you want to cook, you can go to the kitchen and cook some food.  Probably, you will sign up for time in the high-demand rooms.

You can drink beer and coffee.  You can take a shower, if you want.  There are futons, maybe even small sleeping areas so that you can sleep there, though no storage space for clothes and things, so you’d be hard-pressed to live there.  There is a substantial library there, you can borrow books if you like.

So, why would anyone do this?  Well…

All right, obviously the numbers have to be worked out precisely.  But here are some things that I do know:  the mark-up on beer and coffee is huge.  Many people can use one internet connection.  Most of the time that you spend paying for cable, you are not actually watching cable.

Cable and internet can, by themselves, add up to a hundred dollars a month.  A beer a day at a regular bar adds up to a hundred dollars a month.  A gym membership can cost another fifty, and really, how much of that space do you really use when you pay for that?

What if you could eschew things like cable and internet and the gym individually?  You could live in a much smaller, cheaper apartment, and not even worry about the fact that you have basically no kitchen or outdoor space.  My plan to live virtually homeless, with most of what I need stored in my car, would start to be a little more plausible (Jeanine would still never let me do it, but she’s addicted to space, the way most of us are).

Ffffttt.  If it worked and you made money at it, you could establish houses in different cities, too, making it easier for your members to travel.

I’ll have to examine some numbers, see how many people you’d need at what price to make something like this work.  What do you guys think?  Something you might sign up for?  How much would you pay for something like that?

  1. Jeff Holland says:

    I believe this is actually just the plot to “Old School.”

  2. wench says:

    You could have a mail service for members, where they could use the club as a mailing address. You’d need them to provide a cell phone number so you could notify them that they had mail, but it might work.

  3. braak says:

    Hmmm, numbers. There’s an 11,836 sqft building available in Philadelphia for 299,900 dollars.

    So, let’s assume some things. There are five investors, and each one works a shift keeping an eye on the building and doing whatever maintenance or clean up needs doing. This is a roughly 5-hour shift per day, 35 hours per week (including weekends).

    Assuming a 20% down payment and broker’s fees of around 5,000, we can get a fixed-rate 30 year with a APR of 4.5, so a monthly payment of around 1251 a month. Adding in taxes, utilities, lots of cable and internet, beer, and 1500/month in maintenance and supply costs, we’ve got an operating overhead of 3,237/month.

    Let’s say, again for the sake of argument, that it’s possible to rent out some of the rooms for classes, band practice, whatever. Let’s say we can maximally accommodate two classes per day (for five of seven days), and we charge between 20 and 50 to rent it per class. At best, this is an extra $2,000 per month; at a median rate it’s $1040 per month.

    So, if each investor puts in a little over 17,000, best-case scenario (full classes and 100 members paying $150 a month) sees that money paid back in six months, and each investor making $2400 a month before taxes.

    A middle-case scenario (some classes, (70 members at 150, or 100 at 100) sees the money paid back in 12 months, with each investor making 1360 per month.

    1360 per month doesn’t seem like a lot, until you factor in the fact that you don’t have to pay for cable, beer, or a gym membership, and you’re still only working 35 hours a week–especially if you have a writing job or something, you can even double up on that time.

  4. braak says:

    If you have three investors, they’d have to put up about 30 grand each and work for eight hours every day, but they’d be making 4,000 or so a month, which is pretty good.

  5. Jeff Holland says:

    OK, so how does one go about keeping the riff raff out?

  6. braak says:

    Well, it’s a private club–people sign up to be members, they get approved. If they turn out to be dicks, you can just revoke their membership.

    You can actually get a card-key electronic lock system installed pretty cheaply.

  7. Sam A. says:

    Yeah, I guess I’m concerned it was turn into a filthy pit because no-one would want to clean it, like most frats do. Men’s clubs back in the day had lots of servants, right? Even if you’re dealing with an older crowd, I’d just be concerned that everything would be sticky.

  8. Moff says:

    Oh, Holland. I just cracked up loudly at that first comment, because YES.

    Still, I think this makes a lot of sense and I generally approve. A couple of caveats: (1) A lot of people are still going to keep their Internet connections and cable, etc., especially if they live with someone else, so I don’t know that I’d push it the savings angle that hard. (2) Depending on how organized the whole project was and how much money was involved, there might be legal issues, like permits and zoning and such, to consider.

    I do think, no matter what, clubs should come back. Every so often I consider seeing if I can get some friends to join, like, the Elks with me to see if we can bring that shit back; but then I think about how many conversations with old men I would have to have to make it happen, and honestly, a lot of old men are super-annoying (as I expect to be myself, someday).

  9. RixiM says:

    I know people that do this. It’s not difficult at all, really.

  10. braak says:

    @Sam: well, that would basically be your job if you were one of the “caretakers,” right? You’d collect the monthly rent, and you’d spend some of your time at the clubhouse neatening things up. As long as each of the five guys does it at the end of the shift, it shouldn’t be either a) too bad, or b) too much work.

    @Moff: I don’t know, maybe, though. It depends on a lot of things–maybe if you’re right out of college, you’d sign up for this instead of getting internet yourself in the first place. Maybe you treat the clubhouse a little like an office, so purposefully deprive yourself of internet except for the few hours during which you plan to use it, like that.

    But it’s true that it’s a combination of clubbiness and savings, and each of those things will matter more or less to those concerned.

  11. Moff says:

    Maybe. But what makes the best-intended business ventures fail, IMHO, is exactly that sort of optimism.


  12. braak says:

    Yeah, but it’s also that sort of optimism that permits business ventures to succeed.

    What I mean by that, though, is not “maybe we’ll get lucky and this is how it’ll work”, but more like, “we’ll need to market this in different ways to different demographics.” So, this is a way of approaching selling it to some kinds of different folks.

  13. Jeff Holland says:

    Now, will smoking jackets be provided, or do members have to bring their own? And what about the pipe situation, where’s that stand?

    Maybe you could offer some kind of windbreaker-style jackets. That only members would get to wear!

  14. Jeff Holland says:

    But yeah, echoing Sam’s sentiments, at least a bare-bones staff might be required just to keep things from turning to shit.

  15. threatqualitypress says:


  16. Moff says:

    Mmmm, actually, I think the optimism that permits business ventures to succeed and the optimism that expects new college grads to pick up after themselves and to make fiscally wise decisions are two different sorts. One expects that there’s a way to make a system work; another expects people to act contrary to all previous expectations.

    I don’t want to kill the buzz. I just think this thing would work better as a venture among a group of folks who already knew and trusted each other, and who could be counted on to make the financial commitment for a set period of time—as a friendly enterprise, that is, rather than some kind of business operation. I just think if you’re counting on stranger college grads to commit and follow through and not abuse their privileges—well, speaking as a former college grad, there are many, many, many better demographics to count on to commit and follow through and not abuse privileges.

  17. braak says:

    No! I do not expect college grads to not abuse their privileges; I expect that the amount of abuse that college grads will engage in will be less than the concomitant reward for accommodating them.

    That is: of course they will be shitheads. They are twenty-two! But. If each of us is paid 2500 a month to, five times a day, clean up the clubhouse–this obviates how much of a shithead a college graduate is.

    I don’t know; I think the problem is that you need between 75 and 100 members to make the system work, and how do you get them before the system is in place? Problematic.

  18. braak says:


    If the five investors agree in advance to a 3-year-commitment, with the “reward” for maintenance being that they don’t have to pay the membership, and they get a very small monthly fee, you’d only need 40 people at $150 and some minimal classes to see everyone paid back.

    If the investors operated under the assumption that they ONLY wanted to be paid back, rather than make any money at all, after the 3-year-commitment, the cost of membership could be dropped to $50.

  19. katastic says:

    You know, of course, that an awful lot of people would be bringing their illicit lovers back to this house to shag. Extensive research conducted in college proves that if you leave your bedroom open and unobserved for more than twenty minutes, people WILL screw in it.

  20. braak says:

    I think that’s part of the charm of the idea, actually.

    Isn’t the problem that most people have in their lives is that they’ve got nowhere to bring their illicit lovers?

  21. Moff says:

    If you could somehow provide some kind of deal where if people signed up, they got an illicit lover, then I would be 100 percent sold.

  22. Moff says:

    Also, are girls allowed? Because that will affect my decision too.

  23. Moff says:

    And by that I mean: They should be allowed to come into the space as illicit lovers, but I don’t think we should grant them membership privileges.

  24. braak says:

    The only criteria for membership will be awesomeness. We do not discriminate based on sex, race, creed, gender, whatever.

    For instance, Katastic would not be allowed to join–not because she is a chick, WHICH SHE IS, but because she is insufficiently awesome.

  25. katastic says:

    Ahem. “I wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have [braak] as a member.”

  26. braak says:

    Good, because you aren’t invited.

  27. Lord Wackadoo says:

    Oh yeah, I’m gonna start my own club; with Blackjack and hookers. In fact forget the club and the blackjack. Eh screw the whole thing.

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