An exclusive £3,000-a-year members club for tech executives in Canary Wharf’s tallest tower has been shut down.
ClubLounge39, situated on the 39th floor of the One Canada Square skyscraper, was opened in 2014 and operated by startup space provider Level39, which is part of the Canary Wharf Group.
Ben Brabyn, who took over as the head of Level39 a year ago, told Business Insider on Thursday: “My view of the club lounge is this is magnificent but this is not what we need.” When Brabyn was asked if it still exists, he said: “No, it doesn’t.”
The lounge featured one of the UK’s highest restaurants, one-off pieces of artwork, and several breakout rooms for those who required an extra degree of privacy. At its peak, it had approximately 200 members including chief technology officers (CTOs) and chief information officers (CIOs) from some of the world’s biggest banks, Brabyn said — many of which have their UK headquarters in the East London business district.
The lounge — opened by Brabyn’s predecessor, Eric Van Der Kleij, in July 2014 — was designed to be a premium BA airline lounge-type space where tech execs and investors could do deals with the founders of startups based in Level39’s coworking space, which is now home to 200 companies.
“As we approach our fourth anniversary, we are investing in new facilities and greater capacity, responding to increased demand from our members,” said Brabyn. “Space that provides freedom to exchange ideas, experiences, and commercial opportunities is what drives the success of Level39’s community and this expansion will consolidate our position as the best place in London to connect with world-class customers, talent, and infrastructure.”
At launch, membership prices for ClubLounge39 were as high as £3,000 a year. However, members who agreed to provide mentoring to Level39 residents received a discount that saw them pay £1,000 a year. Commenting on the reduced membership fee of ClubLounge39 in 2014, Claire Cockerton, former deputy head of Level39, told Techworld: “A thousand quid a year is quite a reasonable price point for an exclusive club lounge. It goes beyond the fine dining to offer you some good business opportunities.”
Speaking at the time of the launch, David Murray-Hundley, one of ClubLounge39’s first members and a cofounder of Commerce One, which reached a market value of $US22 billion (£18 million), said: “I signed up for ClubLounge39 as the technology world has never really had a members club. There isn’t a place where you can get on with some serious work and not just hang out and talk about ‘what if’ and ‘blue sky’ scenarios all day.
“For someone who lives outside of London, ClubLounge39 is a good place to motivate myself in an otherwise chaotic city. I’ve not yet held a meeting in the Club where my guests have not been impressed by the view, food, wine and staff. When the environment is combined with a community of members who are actually getting results, it makes for a pretty special set up.”
Level39 dropped the membership prices of ClubLounge39 on multiple occasions (they were £300 when Brabyn took over last February) before it was eventually shut in December 2016. One ClubLounge39 member, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Business Insider on Thursday that they have never paid for their membership but said that several members paid £2,000.
Membership prices at Level39 vary, but they’re on the upper spectrum of startup space fees, with prices going from £325 a month for a hot desk to £650 a month per desk in a fixed office. One startup recently left Level39 because they were unhappy paying over £7,000 a month for a 10-man office, a source with knowledge of Level39 told Business Insider.
Brabyn said that when he took over, he asked “very, very, senior decision makers” from large technology firms how the ClubLounge39 space should be used. “People said ‘this is great, this is lovely’. But we don’t need this. This doesn’t enable us to do something that we couldn’t do at higher volumes. Our job is to drive high quality encounters at maximum velocity.”
ClubLounge39 is in the process of being transformed into a mixed use space. When construction work finishes in two weeks, it will be used to support events that take place in Level39’s main gathering space.
“The ClubLounge space can be used to support our events,” said Brabyn. “It can be used as overflow space for the big refectory area and it can also be used for hot desking.”
After learning of the news, Van Der Kleij said: “The Club Lounge was a special thing and it’s wonderful recalling the deals that were struck there and I am sure there will be many more in the new space.”
At the time of the closure, Level39 sent an email to ClubLounge39 members with the subject line “The New Look ClubLounge39.”
One ClubLounge39 member told Business Insider: “They said they were ‘revamping it’ but I get the feeling that’s not the case.”
They added: “I have never paid for membership but I know a lot of people did and I cannot imagine they are massively happy. I probably used it once a month. Other people used it daily. To be honest I think the original concept was good that Eric wanted but it never came through. To be honest that’s sort of true of L39 in general.
“To be honest the real issue here is what Eric and some others that seemed to use L39 very well in terms of ‘own projects’ and political movements. I think its the reason Eric was suddenly gone and so were a few of the others.”