How does a place become iconic? What makes a cultural venue legendary? From the caravanserais of the Silk Road to the tea gardens of Istanbul and Parisian literary salons, people have gravitated towards spaces that could bring us together and bring out our creative spirit to celebrate joie de vivre in style. Contemporary pop history has many era-defining examples: Studio 54 in New York, Berghain in Berlin, or Singapore’s Zouk. Fashion, entertainment, and hospitality industries have always dovetailed each other. In the mid-nineties, Soho House turned this synergy into a new market segment of exclusive-access spaces for movers and shakers in politics, arts, and media. Millennial values shifted community focus on wellness, virtuality, and intercultural experiences.
If celebrity is the current royalty, then digital nomads are the next business magnates. Every great concept warrants a zeitgeist upgrade. The time was right for a new type of place to realign post-pandemic priorities for mindful fun with physical safety and digital knowhow. The leisure sector had lost five million jobs and billions in revenues, so it would have to be a cautious Renaissance. Members first appeared on the scene in the summer of 2020 as the only fully open-air lounge in Los Angeles. It won a loyal following before expanding into the building formerly occupied by the Dar Maghreb restaurant, a Moroccan culinary institution for four decades. With great heritage comes great responsibility. I connected with Thomas Fuks, CEO and founder, as well as Romain Wawrzyniak, a founding partner of Members. We discussed what it’s like to dive into social entrepreneurship while socially distancing, what makes a vibe authentic, and which diaspora is reinventing local community-building worldwide one shared fusion dish at a time.
I keep hearing about tarot cards… What’s that about?
Fuks: [Laughs] Every guest is offered a complimentary tarot card reading. Opening in the middle of a pandemic, we wanted to embrace the unknown and help others cope with the stress of the changes. It is also part of our holistic approach to fusing wellness, music, entertainment, cuisine into a one-of-a-kind experience.
How do you generate a unique concept in a crowded marketplace?
Wawrzyniak: During the pandemic we reignited our desire to re-connect with others, meet new souls, live a meaningful and fulfilled life. Body, soul, and mind aligned. We thought of the places we felt great visiting around the world – Bali, Tulum, Côte d’Azur, Mykonos, Morocco – and decided to cultivate these feel-good vibes in the heart of West Hollywood. We wanted it to be other-worldly, so when you are inside you forget that you are in Los Angeles. Every detail is dedicated to that. I love it when people say, “Oh this feels like Miami… or Marrakesh!” Members is authentically its own.
What makes a venue like that standout in Los Angeles?
Fuks: Members belongs to as diverse a crowd as possible in a global city like LA. The core of our concept does attract a lot of people from the Middle East diasporas who fall in love with the food and the architecture. Nevertheless, thanks to our heritage of fine arts and deep house music, the place is popular with the French, the Eastern Europeans, and people from different horizons.
Wawrzyniak: I’d say LA, Hollywood, California, and Members attract good people with a bad case of Wanderlust. [Laughs] There is a beautiful harmony here. We also welcome real people from the digital diaspora. We decided to enter the web3.0 and the digital era without compromising our purpose of building community. We are launching an NFT membership and developing access to the future MEMBERVERSE (an exclusive Metaverse-based experience).
From tarot cards to NFTs, that’s quite a range…
Wawrzyniak: We like to surprise our guests by constantly reinventing ourselves and offering new experiences to our clients. Our motto is “Expect the Unexpected”. Recently, a famous DJ came for dinner… It was Bob Sinclair. I think we can say it. He ended up in the DJ booth playing music the whole night. Spontaneous inspiration breaking all protocols. That’s what Members is all about.
You are breaking new ground for leisure venues with an unusual take on wellness. How does it fit with our ideas of a restaurant, a lounge, a club?
Fuks: Perhaps, we need a whole new idea! [Laughs] Since day one, we wanted to create something you cannot find anywhere else in LA. We wanted to link spirituality and wellness with entertainment and cuisine in the same space for physical and emotional nourishment. During the day we are using the space for sound baths, meditations, cacao ceremonies, and frequency bed sessions. It’s a platform that sends you frequency through subwoofers so that every single organ of our body vibrates. It helps you relax your body and mind deeply in minutes. Every night we have a working shaman onsite to sage the space and provide chakra healing and energy cleansing consultations.
LA being an emerging fashion capital, I must ask how does fashion factor into your concept?
Wawrzyniak: Fashion is integral to Members due our French roots. We have created an intimate space where people come as they are to express themselves fully. Our industry partners include Vogue, Verishop, Beverly Hills Lingerie and others. We are working with Vinida Savant, a holistic facialist from Paris, who counts Naomi Campbell and John Galiano among her many fashion fans. We recently collaborated with fashion producer Roza Sinaysky and Kolbo showroom which supports Jewish designers around the world. This is a real pleasure for us to exchange with creative minds, to host shows, and maybe create exclusive collections for our members in the future.
To run an in-demand venue, what is the ratio of business savvy, tech knowhow and magic?
Fuks: Background in the hospitality industry is a plus, because it helps you reduce the number of mistakes which saves you time and money for sure. It’s definitely a mix of everything, but one very important factor is the Team. I would say that the team is actually 50% of success. Hiring the right persons, sharing your vision, and making sure that everybody is on the same page can be challenging. We are extremely proud of the Members team and what they all bring to the table.
Wawrzyniak: I agree, and I want to add that it is also the clients, the people we do this for and with. After our first wellness event, I spoke to a young woman who said she came to Members for the first time on Thursday, because it “looked cool on Instagram”. We get that a lot. [Laughs] She recently moved to LA and was having a hard time finding community as many people first do. She said she enjoyed herself here and decided to come back on Friday night. She met more people and joined the Saturday afternoon cacao ceremony and sound bath which “came at the right moment” in her life. She told me she was going home to change, so she could come back for the Saturday night party. This kind of feedback is priceless. This is how we become a real community of people and like-minded souls. This is why it was called Members in the first place! We mean that.