I'll admit, part of the reason I was excited to attend a San Francisco Film Society press conference last week was due to the fact that it was being hosted at The Battery. (The other part of me was really excited to hear directors Spike Jonze and Fruitvale Station's Ryan Coogler speak as part of SFFS's celebration of fall movies). The Battery, if you haven't heard, is San Francisco's new members-only club, a wine cellar-to-rooftop deck behemoth in North Beach. To get inside, it requires you get the holy trinity of being invited to join, being accepted by the club, and being able to pay the $2400 annual membership fee. The club sticks out like a sore thumb in a city that has little use for velvet ropes and doormen. Or maybe I should say we used to have little use for that stuff. Young guns with money could want a place to knock back a $14 cocktail (or a $1,200 bourbon) I suppose, and be part of a private social group that hosts art talks and poker games and forbids business solicitations.
Although personally I'd rather put my membership money into arts organizations like SFFS, I still wanted to see what the fuss was all about with this Battery place. So I lingered and lurked long after we learned about SFFS's favorite films of 2013 (Jonze's Her, Fruitvale Station, Nebraska, and The Square, if you're curious) and snuck around the place, trying to soak up the decor and imagine the kinds of people who would happily spend a over month's rent (or, for some, exactly a month's rent) annually to barricade themselves away from the rest of the city in this bastion of upper classiness.
My photos aren't the best because, well, photography is forbidden at The Battery and I was trying to be sneaky and not get the boot from one of the many earpiece-wearing staffers. But from my stalker swoops of the place, the decor vibe I got was something of The Clift hotel meets Bourbon and Branch. There's a giant open bar on the ground floor, surrounded by glass and taxidermy. During happy hour, I saw a handful of businessmen tucked into the cozy leather seats around the room. Nothing too crazy down there. The downstairs area and the rooftop deck (with an outdoor fireplace, small Jacuzzi, and views of the Bay Bridge) looked like your standard swanky hotel setup.
But on the second floor, the candlelit bars were much cozier, with an old school library nook look and oceanic-themed antiques spread around the rooms. One bar even had turtles on the shelves (not live ones, of course). I could picture Leonardo DiCaprio smoking cigars here with dudes whose hairdos were slicked hard as those turtle shells. As one journalist said to me, though, if this bar were filled with all our friends, we'd probably dig it. And yeah, if I could have a cozy date with my honey on that butterscotch colored couch, I'd take it for a night.
After two hours, I decided to stop being creepy and say goodbye to The Battery. As I left, I asked one of five hostesses at the door if I'd be able swing by sometime and grab a drink at the bar again, just to test things out. She politely told me no – non-members can book a suite she said, but according to section 8 of the Battery charter, there are lots of restrictions on where you can wander outside your room.
So The Battery was fun while it lasted (mostly because I felt a little illicit being there so long) and now I have a sense of the place when people discuss their opinions on San Francisco playing host to a New York-style VIP social club. But the biggest mystery to me is why someone would want to join The Battery. It's expensive and exclusive and hotel-like and you can't bring all your friends. So what's the point? If any of you out there are members, I'd be curious to know what this place offers you enough to part with that two grand and change a year.