Published on February 7, 2013 | by Jawad Elattar

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Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

A woman at the Grace Belgravia.

The Grace Belgravia is an exclusively women’s only club. [image:Yuval Hen Photos]

Cast an eye back one hundred-or-so years and Gentlemen’s clubs were everywhere in London.

They were a place for men to meet in a cloud of cigar smoke while sipping whiskey and sitting in ornate armchairs discussing the issues of the day.

These were bastions of male social superiority. Women may have not been out of mind, but they were most definitely out of sight.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the aforementioned venues have mostly died out.

The Gentlemen’s clubs still in existence are either far too expensive or much too contrived to be a day-to-day outing for the modern man. The ‘pub’ has taken over as the meeting place for males.

However, as all of this was happening, women were finding a social space of their own, and here too there has been a shift. Just a few years ago single-sex venues could be counted on one hand, but now more and more are appearing.

Female Canadian rugby player KC Gates opened the exclusively female KC’z Bar in Soho on February 1 as a place “by women, for women”.

New concept?

The female-only business model is not entirely a new concept; the idea is already used by places such as Candybar, also located in Soho, which operates a ‘one guy to every three girls’ rule.

As a man who has ventured into Candybar several times – for the karaoke of course – I can point out that this is not a blanket policy. The guys that do manage to make it past the bouncers are a select few, and are usually people that the door staff remember from previous visits.

Gates has noted Candybar as a format that could work for her restaurant, saying that men will be allowed in “at designated times, and in certain amounts.”

“There are some hotels that have women-only floors, and these are extremely popular – especially the ones that offer women-only breakfast bars.” Chris O’ Donoghue

There are few venues in London that seemingly cater exclusively to women. Grace Belgravia opened at the end of 2012 and markets itself as “an exclusive private club for spirited, sophisticated and health-conscious women who want the very best in life.” The brainchild of Kate Percival, Grace Belgravia is not the female equivalent of a gentlemen’s club.

Instead, it defines itself as a lifestyle choice, and states that it is the first members club for women that takes “a completely integrated, 360 degree approach to the concept of health and wellness… and is dedicated to empowering and nurturing women through seven ages of life from young adulthood, through fertility, pregnancy, child rearing, empty nesting, menopause and ageing-well.”

Yet Grace Belgravia allows men to attend, albeit only on Tuesday evenings and with the blessing of an existing member of the club.

This begs the question: Is it possible for a hospitality business to cater solely for one sex? The appeal of not having men around may work initially, but is it sustainable? This question can be applied just as equally to the idea of men-only places.

Business Model

Although the ‘Sunday football at the pub’ setting may on the surface seem like a haven for males, more and more women now spend their weekends in their local, watching a ball being kicked around for 90 minutes.

A recent opinion poll in The Times showed that one in four people who attend live football matches are now women.

Chris O’Donoghue from Grace Belgravia believes that a single-sex venue is a viable business model, explaining that Grace spent “millions of pounds on the feasibility of it.”

O’Donoghue also pointed out that allowing men in is “not an economic issue, it is a social and sharing issue,” and that “if a man is coming in as a guest, the guest is responsible for their behaviour.”

“A place where women could come and not be harassed or bothered by the opposite sex, or even the same sex.” KC’z owner, KC Gates

According to O’Donoghue, places that directly target women are focused more at making women feel comfortable, rather than just making money.

“There are some hotels that have women-only floors, and these are extremely popular – especially the ones that offer women-only breakfast bars, as it means that women can go without worrying about being hit on.”

These new women-only clubs, bars and restaurants all stress the fact that they are not aimed at lesbians. True, Candybar is a gay bar, but this does not necessarily mean that you have to be a lesbian to go in.

Environment

KC Gates has said that she wants her restaurant to be “a place where women could come and not be harassed or bothered by the opposite sex, or even the same sex,” and that she wants “all women to come down… women from different cultures, Muslim women, all women.”

This stress-free environment is what sets a modern women-only venue apart from the archaic gentlemen’s club. The latter was the refuge of a certain class of man, whereas the former is appealing to women from all walks of life.

Instead of being places that pride themselves on not letting men in, they seem to care more about creating a relaxed and sociable atmosphere for women.

The growth of women-only venues is hard to predict, but one thing is for sure: the women-only venues already in London are on the up.

 

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