Lately in San Francisco, the social-networking start-up getting the most buzz is actually happening off-line. It’s called The Battery, and it’s a private club and hotel owned by Michael Birch and his wife, Xochi, the founders of Bebo (an online social-networking site). The Jackson Square neighborhood club’s charter defines its denizens as “an eager, inquisitive bunch, always curious, always on the hunt for new ideas and problems to solve.” Birch, 43, says the perfect member would be an artsy type who’d be rejected by a New York City co-op board. In other words, “Nonconformists doing something interesting with their lives,” he says.
The Battery takes its provenance from the fashionable clubs for toffs of Birch’s native Britain and will inevitably draw comparison to another English import, the Soho House (which is itself modeled on London’s legendary Groucho Club). But Birch is also a fan of the village pub and wants to avoid the semblance of a billionaire boys’ club. “There’s inescapably a level of exclusiveness,” he says, “but we don’t want to be elitist.” He opened with 1,000 members, of which only one third are tech entrepreneurs, and aims to keep membership to a level at which the club feels full but not crowded.
Admission is by nomination, with an application fee of $500 and annual dues of $2,400. Members can eat and drink in two dining rooms and five bars, including one that’s hidden behind a secret panel and named for the Musto family, which owned the 100-year-old building when it was a marble-cutting factory. (More than 20,000 artifacts, from pottery to unopened wine bottles, were catalogued when the property was gutted.)
Like Soho House, The Battery has a hotel that nonmembers can stay in. There are 14 guest rooms and a 3,000-square-foot penthouse with an outdoor Jacuzzi and fire pit. The ambiance is Glass House meets Portobello Road, with a touch of Elton John vis-à-vis weathered leather belt tiebacks on a four-poster bed, horsehair wallpaper and gold lamé chairs.
Most member privileges extend to hotel guests, along with the club rules. Pitching business to others is prohibited, as is picture taking. Laptops can be used only in the library. Don’t dress stiff, but don’t dress sloppy. “The nice thing about a members-only club is that you can instill a sense of culture and community,” says Birch. It’s a point furthered by the fact that cell-phone use in the evening is relegated to either the library or an old-fashioned phone booth next to an elevator whose frosted glass floor clears as you descend. Rooms start at $545; 717 Battery St.; 415-230-8000; thebatterysf.com.