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Mumbai's got a new club culture

The city’s new private member clubs cater to the individual, career and social needs of upwardly mobile professionals

Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor addressing members at The Quorum.
Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor addressing members at The Quorum. (The Quorum)

Afsheen Dattobhai, a creative life and executive coach, uses her club, The Quorum, largely to meet clients and to work. But she does enjoy the way it transitions seamlessly to a place where she can socialise over drinks and dinner.

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“During the day, I feel I am entering a professional setup. The space creates a great work atmosphere but it also extends to a night out without having to commute anywhere,” says the 36-year-old.

Dattobhai is one of a growing number of upwardly mobile professionals in Mumbai who are seeing value in new-age private-member clubs that cater to their professional, individual and social needs. Over the past few years, several such clubs have come up in the city. One of the first was possibly The Indus Club, set up in the Bandra Kurla Complex in 2017; it’s set to reopen, post-pandemic, in November in another location in the same area, with outdoor seating. 

The Indian outpost of Soho House opened in Juhu in 2018. The same year saw the launch of The A by the now discredited and imprisoned YES Bank founder, Rana Kapoor. In July, the The Quorum (or The Q) took over The A in Parel’s One World Centre. Now Jolie’s, a club being set up by Aditya Birla New Age, a new vertical of the Aditya Birla Group, is set to launch on 29 October.

The concept of limited, handpicked membership is not new—British-era gymkhanas and executive business clubs at five-star hotels have made this a familiar, aspirational concept. The new clubs, however, tend to be age-, gender- and profession-agnostic, enabling greater opportunities to build contacts, bringing together people with similar aspirations and interests—a new generation of family heirs, entrepreneurs, professionals.

They also offer an array of facilities, from work areas and conference halls to spaces for events, restaurants with gourmet food, bars, fitness studios and private movie theatres. They organise opera performances, live music gigs, discussions and workshops. The Indus Club and Jolie’s have a mini golf studio; the former, with membership restricted to CXOs and business leaders, prides itself on enabling VIP access to events such as the Oscars, cricket World Cups and Wimbledon.

“We provide private concierge service for our members things that money can’t buy. No other club can provide that,” says Harish Thawani, club co-founder. The club is on the verge of acquiring a villa in Khandala for the use of members.

Uurmi Bhatia, a paper florist and a member of Soho House, says: “It is a one-stop shop; you don’t have to step out. There have been times where I have worked in the members’ lounge, which is a closed area on the eighth floor, spent the latter half of the day on the rooftop, looking at the sunset, and then had a meal with my husband before heading home.”

Anupam Prasad, a corporate lawyer who started his own practice last year, joined The A early last year as he wanted a formal space to host clients. It made sense economically too. For an admission fee of 2 lakh and 90,000 as annual fee, Prasad has access to a cabin space and club amenities like a restaurant, a bar, and curated events.

“The private members’ clubs are the new way of doing things. They are more accessible than the age-old gymkhanas where memberships are by virtue of lineage,” says Abhishek Bindal, senior vice-president, operations, at Aditya Birla New Age. “I believe the new generation is looking for a space...that doesn’t collide with parents’ friends. They want their privacy when entertaining friends or business associates. The mindset has changed, the way people meet, go out to socialise and drink and dine has changed. And the services clubs like us offer cater to those shifting changes,” he adds.

Concerns about hygiene and travel during the pandemic have, in fact, added to the sheen of these clubs. “With peak season approaching, with Diwali and New Year, everyone’s in a mood for revelry, and spaces like these can offer great venues. It’s the right time to launch,” says Bindal, who sees London’s Annabel’s club and The Core Club in New York as benchmarks.

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The Quorum claims it already has nearly 400 members. “We are almost at our founder member target—but close to a quarter of the way to our full target, within two months of opening our doors,” says Vivek Narain, founder and CEO. One reason could be that it has extended membership to members of The A. The joining fee starts from 2.5 lakh, while the annual fee is 1 lakh.

The Indus Club already has 550 members, ranging in age from 27-70, and doesn’t plan to exceed 750. “Since the pandemic, the premium on privacy, seclusion and higher standards of safety has been massive and people don’t mind paying more for it,” says Thawani. Joining fee ranges from 5.50 lakh for five years to 10 lakh for 15 years, with an annual fee of 96,000.

Most of the clubs have been wooing “globally oriented Indian citizens”. The Quorum has a special membership category for single women. “We are age- and gender-agnostic. So, a 25-year-old entrepreneur can easily socialise with a 50-year-old businessman,” says Bindal. Jolie’s offers three-, five- and 10-year memberships, starting from 5.5 lakh. You pay for the facilities you use.

Vivek Pandit, senior partner at global consulting firm McKinsey, is a member of business clubs run by five-star hotels like The Belvedere Club (at The Oberoi Hotel), The Chambers (run by The Taj Mahal Palace). While these enable closed-door conversations and meetings, the facilities new-age private clubs offer are more inviting. Pandit, a member of The Quorum, says, “It’s a space that speaks to friends, family and business associates alike. I am comfortable hosting a casual dinner, fund-raiser or even a board meeting. It has a refreshing wider appeal in that sense.”

“Being a member,” he adds, “is a net additive for me—another arrow in my quiver to host people who I know will be treated well and enjoy an inspiring space equally.”

Dattobhai, whose family is a member of the Willingdon Sports Club, agrees. For her, the Willingdon Sports Club is an extension of home. “I don’t think these new clubs are replacing old ones but, rather, giving me an alternative. Both have different appeals.”

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