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Inside Sydney's First Membership-Focused Sports Bar, The 19th Club

With membership to this sports bar, it's all about food, drinks and sports in a spot where, just like Jamberoo, you control the action.
By James Whitton
December 11, 2016
By James Whitton
December 11, 2016

One Friday morning, as the Washington Redskins fell to the Dallas Cowboys, The 19th Club was alive with coffee, muesli and morning meetings. A few hours later, breakfast gave way to lunch, and the bar was heaving with the CBD crowd, chowing down on crunchy chicken tenders, taking the edge off the work week with a crisp beer, and watching the Pittsburgh Steelers slowly demolish the Indianapolis Colts.

A growing number of patrons aren't just once-off visitors — they're actually members here. By joining up, they can take advantage of access to discounts and freebies, as well as the ability to control what's on screen, what they eat, and pretty much every other aspect of their experience at the club.

All too common throughout the United States, membership to bars hasn't really kicked off in Australia, but that's looking to change, with bars like The 19th Club leading the charge by offering an individually tailored guest experience. In order to grasp how the concept is looking to revolutionise the way we approach going out for a drink, I really put the hard yards in and met up with the club's Head of Member Services and all-round renaissance man Tom Glasson to drink beer, eat incredible food, and talk about sports.

19th Club 1

The 19th Club is built on the American idea of membership to bars and clubs, something that is definitely lacking in Australia. "Everyone's a member of everything," Glasson advises in regards to the US approach to bars. It's this idea that The 19th Club are trying to transpose to our fair shores, and part of this is the importance that sport plays in the way we think about pubs and bars. Sports bring people together with a shared experience, regardless of differences. "You don't have to have a CEO's income to share that dialogue," says Glasson.

The old (and highly debatable) adage that the customer is always right runs deep at The 19th Club, even to the point where the members have an active say in how the bar runs. Opening hours can change depending on what members want to watch, for example. Members have access to a private messaging platform on Slack, where they can communicate directly with staff, even to the point of ordering food before they arrive.

When I asked about some fairly obvious demographic barriers, Glasson is quick offer reassurance. "It's not in any way a boy's club." What if, then, someone wanted to watch the netball? "If the members want the netball on, we put the netball on!" Glasson offers. It was then agreed that netball is an awesome and underrated sport.

It's evident that the ideal behind The 19th Club is that it's driven by its members, and run for its members, but in a way that doesn't alienate the public. It's a sports bar for the people, by the people.

19th Club 9

Despite the strong emphasis on American sports at The 19th Club, Glasson is adamant that this isn't the endgame for the bar. "It's American focused right now, but that's only because this is the right time to do it," he says. With the Australian summer of cricket well underway and the football season peeking its head around the corner, there's a whole other dimension coming to the bar.

Given that it has only been open since September, it would be easy for the head honchos behind The 19th Club to rest on their laurels and simply continue with the business model they're currently offering, but this isn't the case at all. Rather than keep on keeping on, the aim is to progress to the point where membership to The 19th Club grants you access to future incarnations of the bar around the globe. The goal is, according to Glasson, to be able to "watch what you want, when you want, anywhere in the world."

The 19th Club provides something new, something unique to the Sydney scene. It's a sports bar with a refined décor that offers breakfast, beers, a burger that tastes exactly like a stadium burger but really, really good, and a unique experience for each and every member. It's easy to see how this model works so well in America, and it's not too much of a stretch to see it working here, as well. What a time to be alive.

Find The 19th Club on the ground floor at 19 Bridge Street, Sydney. For more information, visit their website.

Published on December 11, 2016 by James Whitton


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