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Spotlight: The Warren City Club (Southern Hospitality, Nov 2006)

The Warren City Club (or "The Warren") is a fantastic pad where everybody knows your name and you can eat great food or drink a cocktail without having to fend off guys (or gals, I guess) you don't like. Young chef, wonderful owner, great view. Read my piece in Southern Hospitality or skip to the full article below.
The Warren City Club

You may assume a private club is only for stiff-upper-lip types in mysteries filmed across the Atlantic. Or that clandestine nooks with dedicated servers are solely for rock stars and other high flyers. But you’d be wrong. Owner Kristi Warren used the European tradition of the private club when she launched her eponymous restaurant, The Warren City Club, a few years ago. The Atlanta restaurant is open only to members, who sign a membership agreement and pay an annual fee to join, entering the restaurant using electronic keycards at the bottom of an unassuming flight of stairs. Too high-concept? Hardly—there are 400 to 500 members on the club’s roster, with more on the waiting list.

The Warren is located in the city’s vibrant Virginia-Highlands shopping district, away from Atlanta’s Buckhead club scene. The club is three stories above the street, with a view of the cityscape through the trees that are at eye-level with the lush outdoor patio. The entire space has a rustic, loft-like feel, with five fireplaces surrounded by rough, weathered beams and wood floors smoothed by age. A DJ booth sits discreetly in a corner, screened by curtains from a plush conversation area with sofas and ottomans that is cleared and turned into a dance floor on weekends for late-night guests. Members have also contributed items to the space’s décor, which features a rotating exhibition of local art as well as a member-drawn portrait of Kristi’s late father, Warren, on the wall.

The city needed just such a watering hole, says Kristi. “The club concept is rare, but this neighborhood in particular needed it, without making people travel to Buckhead.” She also wanted to avoid a meat-market reputation. (To appeal to mature members, the Warren is open only to the 25-and-older crowd.) The early arrivals tend to be professionals coming in for dinner or a drink at the bar. Late-nighters attend parties thrown by members or impress their friends in The Warren’s VIP area, its comfortable seating set off from the main area by curtains and furnished with its own fireplace and restroom.

The refined-yet-relaxed atmosphere is matched by the stellar food that comes out of the club’s kitchen. The restaurant’s menu has evolved with the club. “Originally we served tapas and small plates, but we’ve graduated to a full restaurant with our own chef and a more upscale menu,” says Kristi. She and chef William Taylor, a Johnson and Wales grad, recently held a prix-fixe food tasting for 25 members to garner comments on the menu, which changes seasonally. The current menu offers an espresso-dusted filet of beef with a blueberry reduction as well as lighter fare, such as upscale salads, tuna carpaccio and wild mushroom ravioli. Vegan and vegetarians are welcome, and club members often ask the chef for special orders.

Despite the club’s exclusivity, “we try to be good neighbors,” says Kristi. Once a month, the club opens to the community for an open house, welcoming friends or just those whose curiosity spurs them to duck inside. During member appreciation week, a party every night celebrates the conviviality and friendships grown over the past year. A few couples have even become engaged after meeting at The Warren, and Kristi has hosted rehearsal dinners, baby showers and parties galore.

Corporate memberships allow professionals to host meetings at the club. Kristi welcomes her corporate clients, who often throw parties or set up special meetings to get their clients or colleagues out of the office. “The corporate card is designed for people who want to lend it to their clients for an evening out, or to their top employees as a perk to be passed around.” A list of registered users keeps The Warren from being overrun by outsiders.

All members regularly receive invitations to private parties and theme nights, including special wine and scotch tastings, a New Year’s Eve bash, and an Oscar-night party to celebrate the Academy Awards in style. But the parties are just a perk of belonging to a club that celebrates the ordinary comings and goings of its members just as much as it does the milestones.

Despite her ability to throw a party at the drop of a hat, Kristi maintains that the core appeal of The Warren is in how easily members get to know each other and how quickly their tastes are noted by the owner, chef and staff. And unlike at most of the restaurants and bars in town, says Kristi, “People actually talk to each other here.”

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