The Oldenburg

I've been rolling this one around in my head for a few years now, and I think it's finally coming closer to fruition: I'd like to start an old style social club.

In his book The Great Good Place Ray Oldenburg, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Sociology at the University of West Florida, says:

"Most needed are those 'third places' which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase 'third places' derives from considering our homes to be the 'first' places in our lives, and our work places the 'second.'"

Working from home I distinctly feel the need for at least a second place. Each day I head to the local coffee shop and drink more coffee than I should around semi-familiar faces. It's a pleasant time, but it's not community. Similarly in the evenings I frequently find myself wanting to get out of the house and amongst friends, without incurring the organizational and monetary expenses of an organized restaurant or bar outing.

I've got the notion that a semi-traditional social club might be just the thing for which I'm looking.

Before the 20th century gentlemen would belong to one or more social clubs where they would take meals, meet colleagues, enjoy a familiar and relaxed setting, and just generally escape the home. These clubs were typically men-only, though women-only clubs existed as well, and both generally discriminated against Jews and racial minorities.

In the 21st century these clubs still exist, albeit in a changed form. Membership policies are no longer (openly) discriminatory. The twin cities has two of the clubs of note: The Minneapolis Club ( and the University Club ( Both are large, opulent, and not quite what I'm looking for (not that they'd have me anyway).

Rather than a luxurious complex, I'd like to set the club up in just a room or two. Add some comfortable chairs, a liquor cabinet, a fridge, a bookshelf, a newspaper subscription, and twenty or so members and I think one could have the makings for a very pleasant place to while away evenings. A friend pointed out that this is almost exactly the sort of thing that the ACM, a student club, used to provide for us back in college but no longer can.

Funding would have to come in the form of monthly dues with a possible up-front initiation fee. Membership, governance, and policy could largely be cribbed from the charters of 19th century clubs with few modifications. Emily post even has a chapter on the subject: . Still there's a great deal of stuff that would have to be worked out amongst the charter members.

At this point I'm looking into general feasibility, possible locations, and interest level. I've set up a mailing list for anyone remotely interested to track progress and help shape the idea. It can be joined at: defunct. I've also got a survey which is open to anyone for whom the notion of a non-commercial third place resonates. It can be taken anonymously and can be found at: .

None of this is exactly in line which what Ray Oldenburg is talking about. He's advocating free, public leisure spaces within walking distance whereas we're looking at a non-free, private leisure space to which some members will need to drive. Regardless, friend, neighbor, and interested party, Jamie, suggested we steal Ray Oldenburg's name for that of the club, and so far it's the best anyone's come up with, though nothing's final until the charter is signed.

If any part of this idea caught your interest please consider taking the survey. Even if you choose not to participate, your actions will help us to determine how The Oldenburg should be organized.