Spotting a similarly Spandex-clad girl coming toward me, I follow her into the pizza joint and slip through a door inside. And suddenly, I'm in a NYC fitness speakeasy: dim lighting, a bar, mirrored walls, and about 50 fellow secret door-goers, ready to get sweaty.
In the middle of a luxurious space intended for trendy cocktails and late-night trysts, five instructors from the The Dogpound take turns leading us through 45 minutes of jabbing, punching, and burpees. When the workout's complete, we enjoy the space as it was intended: drinking wine, snacking, and maybe snagging a few slices of pizza from behind the door.
This wasn't part of some crazy fight club I joined. It was an event hosted by Wellvyl, one of several wellness social clubs whose goal is to bring people together through health, wellness, and IRL interaction.
"We're targeting people who are no longer going to bars after work, but are hitting up SoulCycle or Barry's Bootcamp," says 36-year-old Wellvyl founder and CEO Christopher Krietchman, an ex-pro body builder whose previous venture was a food delivery service called Fresh Grill Cafe Meal Program. "They're cosmopolitan boutique fitness lovers in their 20s and 30s."
Rather than taking the "barre then brunch" approach, cool wellness clubs are aiming to attract this crowd by bringing it all together in the same place for serious "sweatworking" and health-minded socializing, in major cities from London to Los Angeles.
Here's what you need to know about the rise of the wellness social club scene.
They come with a cool-girl mentality.
These clubs are targeting the Most Likely to Skip Happy Hour for a Double Session at Tangerine Set, and they're bringing in the fitness talent and cool destinations to match. Wellvyl's star instructors have included Nike trainer Rebecca Kennedy and Courtney Paul of Barry's Bootcamp. And The Aerie Collective, whose goal is create "urban retreats" to leave you feeling physically and mentally refreshed, regularly hosts events (think sound baths filled with people so casually beautiful, you almost don't want to close your eyes) at Brooklyn's chic Wythe Hotel, while Serene—which describes itself as a "curator of wellness and conscious living"—sets up (pop-up) shop at hotspots like The Standard and The Jane in NYC.
They're not just about working out.
While some events may involve a fitness class component, others may center around a guided meditation with live music or a reiki workshop followed by a green juice tasting.
Some are in an intimate setting, like Wellvyl's recent Yoga for Better Sex workshop, while others set up for a packed house, like Serene's New York Fashion Week "SereneHouse" pop-up event, which took over Bandier's Studio B and second-floor lounge with a series of fitness classes taught by a bevy of NYC's A-list instructors, energy healing sessions, and a live DJ.
And Venice, CA-based Serene has been hosting similar events at the Standard LA, and plans more summer pop-ups with yoga and holistic practitioners at One Roof in Venice, CA, as well as at The James Hotel in NYC.
"Getting your workout in is great—you get in and get your butt kicked," Krietchman says. "But as human beings, we want something more, something deeper. It's about encompassing all four pillars of health—mind, body, soul, and social—and creating an environment for people to experience all four in one place."
"We want to be like the Soho House for the fitness and wellness community." —Wellvyl's Christopher Krietchman
The clubs acknowledge the crucial mental aspect of wellness, too. For twin sisters Elle and Claire Bourgeois, and their friend Laura Sniderman, cofounders of The Aerie Collective, cultivating a peaceful vibe is a key part of the experience.
"During college, we would escape to a cabin to get a break from the library, and would spend our days exploring diverse wellness practices like dance, meditation, yoga, art, music, and nutrition," says Claire Bourgeois, a McGill University grad. "We stand behind the idea that you can integrate the community and peace of mind that you find on getaways into your everyday life."
They're targeting community-seeking wellness enthusiasts.
The pop-up events are a way to "gather a tribe," says Jordan Daly, one of Serene's three cofounders.
"I spent 15 years in the fashion industry looking for external validation from my job, relationship, title, or salary," she says. "Eventually I realized I wasn't going to find what I was looking for on the outside."
Daly decided to enroll in yoga teacher training, and eventually met Millana Snow and Tegan Bukowski, Serene's other cofounders. "We have so much shit coming at us all day, every day," Daly says. "We're here to gather a tribe of people so together we can ground down and take a deep breath."
What's the cost? Think boutique-plus.
The events offered by wellness social clubs are like boutique classes with benefits—with prices to match. The Aerie Collective's three-hour urban retreats cost $125 each. And at Wellvyl, tickets to individual events are $40–$50, with full-day events ranging from $55–$100. Starting April 1, Wellvyl will offer memberships for about $200 per month, which will include admission to several events every month. Serene's events, on the other hand, are on the more affordable side at $22–$25 for regular weekly events.
They're not about dating—but you might end up meeting someone.
While these clubs are intended to be social events—not meet-cutes—the possibility is undeniably appealing. "When I was single, I'd be at the gym and would catch eyes with a woman," says Krietchman. "I would want to say hi, but gym etiquette is you don't really bother people. So there was no connection." At these events, however, connection is the goal, and saying hi is entirely encouraged.
They have big plans for the future.
While Serene's focus is on throwing the best pop-up events possible in New York, London, and Los Angeles, and The Aerie Collective hopes to take its NYC and Toronto events around the globe, Wellvyl is planning for a permanent home base in New York City. "We want to be like the Soho House for the fitness and wellness community," says Krietchman.
And with its upcoming membership program, Wellvyl hopes that —by granting VIP access to events, plus added incentives like partner discounts and affiliate programs—the club will become a tight-knit community. "Being a member of something makes it more special," says Krietchman. "It creates a tighter connection, and a sense of belonging to something more."
Looking for an online community as well? These are the healthy Instagrammers you should be following.
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