(Bloomberg) -- The front lobby of Heimat, the new private wellness club opening in Hollywood June 29, feels like arriving at your mildly eccentric uncle’s midcentury modern home in Joshua Tree, Calif.
There is salmon-hued floral wallpaper, caramel-leather couches, and flea-market tchotchkes placed carefully on the walls. A long wooden credenza looks straight from 1975. The large black fireplace burning at the early morning hour seems a little out of place for June in Los Angeles— but ’60s soul music wafting over the sound system is never wrong, so you decide to go with it.
Leave the lobby and pass through a set of silently sliding doors, and you find yourself in a completely different environment. The 75,000-square-foot, five-floor members club has now shifted to some sort of fitness holy place. The bamboo-lined, light-drenched chambers of a 1928 former Cadillac plant are filled with dozens of treadmills. A butterfly press with actual wings painted on the top is a content creator’s dream TikTok.
There are studios specifically built for reformer Pilates, hot yoga underneath infrared panels built into the ceiling, a huge space for group Kinesis classes, boxing, cycling, dance, and the popular TRX workout that involves hanging from the ceiling like an overhyped acrobat.
On the roof, overlooking the pool and 180-degree views of the Hollywood Hills, chef Michael Mina’s Mother Tongue restaurant offers Keto-friendly cuisine, vegetable couscous, and steak tartare. There’s also a bar that opens at 10 a.m. and a hamburger that is “worth the calories,” says Sebastian Schoepe, the president and CEO of RSG Group North America. The 160-seat space draped in soft pinks, teals, and golds is open to the public 7 a.m. to midnight; Heimat members get priority seating among the intimate booths, expansive bar, and tables that sit as many as 10.
That’s the thing about this new offering from RSG Group, Rainer Schaller’s company that includes 6.4 million customers across Gold’s Gym, John Reed, and Europe’s McFit fitness chains, among other brands. Heimat may include enough workout options to satisfy the world’s most needy health mavens—that is, wealthy Angelenos—but nothing suggests deprivation. In an email after a recent tour, a spokesperson requested that references to the group’s latest health house not include the word “gym.”
“Most gyms are about sacrifice and about discipline,” says Schoepe. “We have the approach of, ‘No have that burger.’ You can go out on a Friday night and get some drinks or get hammered. But Saturday morning you show up at the gym. It may not be your best workout, but you have to have both.”
“It's about hospitality and embracing being together on different levels—not just fitness, but also social and indulgence,” he continues. Heimat, which is the German term for a nostalgic feeling of home, or a sense of belonging, has additional outposts planned for Paris, San Francisco, Dallas, and Berlin.
The New Gym Is a Members Club
A first look during its soft-open launch saw me softly bombarded with art from Abel Macias and Mr. Brainwash, carefully curated playlists that featured Kate Bush remixes, and marble-lined locker rooms with Dyson dryers and glorious vanity lighting.
I was skeptical about why exactly LA needed another gym, especially when the city’s abundant hiking trails, soundbath studios, and Crossfit boxes seem to do the trick for many of my wellness enthusiast, or, let’s be honest, just plain single-and-ready-to-mingle friends. But where gyms here are as popular here as grocery stores, and about as interchangeable, too, Heimat feels more like a fresher Soho House that also happens to have better food and wellness facilities.
“It’s challenging to meet people in LA, but hopefully this creates an environment where you bond over either a glass of wine or over how serious that cycling class was,” Schoepe says of the vision. “You come in the morning, bring your laptop, work a bit, get your workout in, get your nails done, chill by the pool in the afternoon, have a lunch meeting, invite your friends for dinner and have a glass of wine by the fire pit. It’s a safe space. It should feel like you’re coming home to someone’s house.”
Someone’s house filled with well-heeled friends.
Membership fees vary between $200 a month for those under 25 years old to $300 for everyone else. Parking, massage and beauty treatments, private training, and the restaurant and bar are not included in the fee, though group classes are included as is access to Ted-style talks and film screenings.
Schoepe isn’t forthcoming on how potential members are evaluated and curated—besides the cursory glance over social media channels—but emphasizes they’ll be more adult and cosmopolitan than perhaps those at DJ-heavy John Reed Fitness, and far less monastic than those who might visit Equinox or LA Fitness. Demand, a Heimat spokesperson said, has been intense.
An Industry Hard Hit
The upper-end feel of the club and its patrons will be critical to separating itself from the rest of the pack. The $160 billion fitness industry took a massive hit during the coronavirus pandemic, when revenue declined by 58% and 17% of health and fitness clubs closed their doors for good, according to data from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
Heimat’s overbudget opening is delayed by more than two years, and has been in the works for at least twice that long, Schoepe says. Hiring has been a “painful” challenge, though no more so than for any other hospitality provider lately. The club at full capacity will include a staff of 200 including the restaurant attendants, trainers, aestheticians, yoga guides, valets, and hospitality specialists, among others.
Bottom line: The Heimat team is operating under the belief that rather than kill the need to join a fitness club, coronavirus exacerbated it.
“People didn’t notice how important not just working out is, but also being social about it,” says Schoepe. “You can work out at home, but you work out differently when you’re with other people. You go that extra breath, you add another five pounds, you go for another 10 minutes on the treadmill—if the environment is right.”
Speaking in one of the weight rooms with Jordan Taylor, one of Heimat’s personal trainers, I saw 30- and 40-somethings in black lycra doing bench presses and free weights in the studio mirrors. They were fit but more cool and toned than oiled up for Muscle Beach. Artwork by Jessalyn Brooks and Sophia Dherbecourt diverted as I gritted my teeth and imitated Taylor through a round of stretching, squats, and crunches meant to mimic what a prospective member may request as an intro to what the club can offer. Actual fitness classes and private training for members had yet to start when I visited the space.
Later, comparing notes with an acquaintance who had been gifted a six-month trial membership, we marveled at the quality of the club’s design like the refurbished original multipane windows and multitiered chandeliers strung with large with globe lights throughout. I mentioned how nice it was to find that the entrance to parking had been located behind the front of the building in a clean, wide-open lane easily marked as the valet spot.
I was surprised with how well the walls between each room and floor—bolstered by special acoustical mats nearly an inch thick, I found out later—deadened the sound between floors like a bank vault. I felt like I could cancel my other social club and fitness class accounts and just consolidate them into one membership here.
According to IHRSA, after the darkest months of Covid, 94% of people said they planned to return to their gym in some capacity. The fitness industry is expected to grow 172% to be worth $434 billion by 2028, according to Market Research, with gyms alone seeing an annual growth rate of 7.2% from 2021 to 2028.
“Health club membership and usage trends indicated sustainable growth over the long-term,” the report said. “While recovery from the current downturn will be daunting, the health club industry has shown resilience when faced with previous challenges.”
That day at the club, as I walked back into Heimat’s lobby after a quick round of selfies in those lit-for-Hollywood locker room mirrors, Schoepe handed me a brown paper bag.
“It’s banana bread—the best you’ve ever had,” he said with a proud smile.
I’m not one for banana bread. But ensconced in that wallpaper-lined living room, delightfully relaxed after all those crunches, that pretty little loaf of carbo-indulgence felt about right.
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