Velvet ropes and beefy bouncers are getting replaced by increasingly stiff membership fees as Big Apple nightclubs battle over exclusivity and big-name guests.
Richie Akiva — who made his name launching the chic eatery Butter in 2002 and the celebrity mecca 1OAK in 2007 — was enlisted to curate, run and eventually expand the recently opened Ned Nomad, an offshoot of Soho House founder Nick Jones’ The Ned in London.
Located in a Beaux-Arts building at 1170 Broadway, the Ned has since become a haven for Leonardo DiCaprio following the actor’s most recent breakup, and a rooftop date spot for new parents Rihanna and A$AP Rocky. It’s also where rapper Offset held a wild party in the club’s Magic Room performance space, attended by Emily Ratajkowski, Diplo and Badius.
Along with Soho House, The Ned is under the umbrella of the Membership Collective Group, a public company run by billionaire Ron Burkle. More than 700 people have joined the Ned Nomad since it opened June 22, according to the company’s second-quarter earnings report.
That’s despite the fact that The Ned charges $5,000 annually, plus a $1,500 initiation fee. Those under 30 get a bit of a discount with a $4,000 annual price and $350 initiation fee. Soho House members can join for $2,500 a year.
“Yes, you are paying something,” said Akiva, the founder and CEO of the Butter Group since 2005. “But that’s what New York has come to. Everything has become so saturated and commercialized, and now you have to pay for that unsaturated world.”
The Ned Nomad puts Akiva into direct competition with his ex-partner and co-1OAK founder Scott Sartiano, who now runs the private club Zero Bond, Mayor Eric Adams’ favorite club. Zero Bond’s membership fees range from $2,500 to $4,000, with initiation fees that reach $5,000.
“Private membership clubs are the new way of having a doorman. It’s what keeps that exclusivity,” Akiva tells Side Dish. “You apply and get picked by a committee. It helps keep some sort of order.”
Sartiano, through a spokesperson, did not comment.
While the private member club trend launched before the pandemic, the lockdown added to its appeal — as did a crowd which has aged out of the larger club scene, says restaurateur and nightlife veteran Richie Romero, who worked with Akiva and Sartiano at 1OAK and now heads the new, large-scale Times Square night club Nebula.
The Ned’s mix of public and private spaces — plus Akiva’s programming that includes live music, comedy and other performances — puts it in a category all its own, the nightlife impresario said.
“There are celebrities and impromptu performances from Jeremy Piven to Chris Rock, then a cool jazz band and then you can go upstairs and have drinks on the roof and dinner,” Akiva said.
“It’s a one-stop shop for your night on the town, with dinner, drinks, live entertainment and dancing, all in different parts of the hotel,” he added.
A second Ned in New York will open in the Financial District in 2024 — a 190,000 square-foot-space inside the New York Stock Exchange building. That club will include a gym, pool, performance space and restaurants.
“Everything has become so internet based. People don’t leave their houses. They are just sitting in front of a computer or a phone all day. I think this is more about having a place to go,” Akiva said.