As the CDC greenlights more indoor socialization for vaccinated people, a North Hollywood bar has started promoting a new members-only club called Risky Business that requires full vaccination to join. Located at the Other Door, a 10-year-old cocktail lounge and live music venue, the club will allow members to eat and drink indoors, or even play a game of pool, without the need for masks or social distancing measures. The Other Door also saw the opportunity to gain some attention in light of difficult times across the hospitality industry.
When the pandemic first closed cocktail-focused establishments like the Other Door in 2020, co-owners Ari Schindler and Jonathan Katz used several different approaches to keep the place afloat. In the spring, they offered subscriptions of curated cocktails and food pairings, and developed a loyal following. “In the first few months of lockdown, pickup and delivery were steady. They were a fraction of our revenue from before lockdown, but significant,” says Schindler. They also dabbled in selling grocery items and over-the-counter medications to generate sales. As things start to return to full capacity in Los Angeles, Schindler and Katz are hopeful that anyone feeling cooped up from lockdown over the past year will be enthusiastic about going out again.
The first Risky Business announcement came out in late March on the bar’s Facebook and Twitter, with a debut projected for sometime in the next few weeks. Paid memberships are on sale for $10 now but will eventually cost $20. Memberships will have a priority system that unlocks more privileges the earlier one joins. “Every member gets a special drink on their first visit, and the earlier you join, the more incredible your drink will be,” says Schindler. People can buy memberships for themselves or their friends, with the original purchasers receiving more unnamed perks.
The club will check vaccine cards much like they would IDs before entry into the bar. Those paying for memberships will have to fill out a questionnaire verifying information such as their identity, vaccination date, and vaccine type. Prospective members won’t be allowed access into the club until they submit completed vaccine cards, but they can still register for membership while they wait.
“We have lots of friends, especially those on the front line in the medical field, who want a place where they can hang out and unwind,” Schindler says, explaining the move to open a vaccine-only club that can accommodate about 100 people inside. “We all know that the end of the pandemic, and the return to our normal lives, is when herd immunity is reached through vaccination. So we decided to create a place with herd immunity already in full effect, where essential workers, and eventually everyone, can return to normal now.” While he wasn’t willing to give information on the number of people who had applied, he did offer that the club was getting a considerable amount of interest.
The route to opening a vaccinated-only club comes with uncertainty: Fully vaccinated people are very unlikely to transmit COVID, but there are reports of people testing positive despite being vaccinated. And verification can be difficult since there isn’t an existing framework for authenticating vaccine cards. The vaccinated-only club idea has so far received mixed reviews on social media. “We were really amazed by the hugely positive response and the flood of people seeking memberships,” Schindler says. “We were also impressed by the colorful variety of negative responses.”
Some people were fully on board, excitedly praising the project. Others were in the middle — happy to lend support to a beloved local business they had visited before the pandemic. Some were absolutely against it, citing discrimination and concern over potential COVID outbreaks. Mike Mikaelian wrote on the venue’s Facebook page that he believes this is just another example of what the new normal will look like. “Everyone who’s crying discrimination needs to have a reality check. This is soon going to be the new norm for most, if not all, businesses, your work, your kids’ school, etc.,” Mikaelian wrote.
Despite other variants surfacing in California and the potential backlash of an outbreak, Schindler was nonetheless hopeful about the club’s potential. “You can see how fast reopening is happening right now in Los Angeles, how easy it is to find places full of people drinking, and how nobody wears a mask other than when they enter. Vaccinated clubs like ours will be a rarity, for people who want normal social interactions like we used to take for granted, along with a lower risk of viral transmission.”