One of the more traumatic moments of my life was the night I was ruled too unhip to enter a club.
No, it wasn't Studio 54 with its infamous velvet rope — it was a far less prestigious nightclub in England that, nevertheless, scanned me for an instant and turned me away.
A group of grad-student friends and I stood in line for nearly half an hour, and when we reached the front, the doorman nodded toward my pale blue jeans and smirked, "Sorry, mate. Can't wear light-colored pants in here. Too cheeky." I turned to my entourage and found that one of them, too, was wearing beige slacks, and our evening plans were irrevocably dashed.
It's not that I've never been admitted to a club since then. After all, I serve on the board of directors for the Orange County Press Club, which I'd take over any disco utopia. But the thing is, even though we're an exclusive group, we don't have an actual club — as in, a mysterious brick-and-mortar venue that people observe from outside while imagining top-secret meetings, exotic drinks and other unattainable hipness.
So when I got an invitation to take a walking tour of the revamped Center Club in Costa Mesa on Wednesday afternoon, I gladly accepted. For those who aren't members of the Center Club, it's a 26-year-old club founded by Henry Segerstrom and located next to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The venue, which bills itself as "Orange County's premier private business and social club," recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and will host a re-opening party Jan. 31.
The Center Club is not a nightclub, of course, and getting inside is not a matter of wearing the right attire. To join, you have to be invited by a current member, and if the information on your application checks out (and if you pay a one-time entrance fee, plus monthly dues), you're in. You can also transfer your membership if you belong to another venue in ClubCorp, the nationwide group that owns the Center Club; if you have a friend who's a member, he or she can also bring you in as a guest.
Once you pass all those hurdles, the membership is democratic: men and women, all ages, small business owners and senior executives. Some people go to the club to pound on their laptops or hold meetings; others go to have dinner and drinks or watch TV. Unlike at Studio 54, Bianca Jagger has never ridden through the lobby on a white horse to celebrate her birthday, but you can't have everything.
Still, as a member of the Victims of Smug British Doormen support group, I felt giddy to get to visit an exclusive club. Wednesday afternoon, General Manager Shahin Vosough walked me and photographer Scott Smeltzer through the swank confines at the base of the Center Tower at 650 Town Center Drive.
The renovation, which began in June, added a slew of new features, including a bar and lounge area with a barista on duty, a media room with a 103-inch plasma TV, a touch-screen computer (known as the "Club Hub") that shows the calendar of upcoming events, and a VIP lounge separated by glass from a water-spouting sculpture. Every single piece of furniture is new, and some of the added features allow greater flexibility: A trio of Symphony Ballrooms, named after Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, roll back their walls and merge into one grand area.
Those interested in visiting the club will get a chance at the Jan. 31 event, in which it opens its doors to the general public for its annual ClubCorp Charity Classic. From 6 to 10 p.m., guests can tour the grounds and hear live music by Jerry Mandel's Swingin the Standards Jazz Band, students from Orange County School of the Arts and others. It's not cheap to attend — $75 in advance, $100 at the door — but the funds go to support the Orange County Museum of Art, ClubCorp's Employee Partners Care Foundation and the muscular dystrophy charity Augie's Quest.
That one night aside, how easy is it to gain entrance to the club? According to Vosough, it's not that hard; there are about 800 members already and no upper limit on how many can join. With the business world so interconnected, he told me, getting the nod is often more a question of "when" than "if."
"Just about everyone who's in business knows someone in business who's in the club," Vosough said. "So sponsorship has never been a problem."
I don't think I know anyone personally who belongs to the club, but I'll go on networking and wait patiently for my turn. And when that time comes, I'll have my outfit ready. I checked with Vosough, and the Center Club does allow jeans — pale and otherwise.
If You Go
What: ClubCorp Charity Classic
Where: Center Club, 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Jan. 31
Cost: $75 in advance, $100 at the door
Information: (714) 662-3414