Believe it or not, there’s a bar in laidback Manhattan Beach where you are only allowed entrance if you’re a member of their exclusive “900 Club.” It’s called Side Door and there’s no sign outside. If you go there early enough on a Saturday night you might be able to snag a seat in their too-cozy-for-comfort downstairs bar where the general public is allowed. But if you are like me and come a bit late and end up roaming the bar in the hopes of looking for a place to sit, you might “accidently” end up where you don’t belong: upstairs in their exclusive 900 Club.
Going through the door to the restrooms, I could hear the music upstairs. Some live band of no consequence. But when I went up the stairs to investigate, sure enough there was plenty of room and lots of empty chairs up there. A sharp contrast to the standing-room-only 13-by-15-foot space in the downstairs bar. I kid of course but it is pretty small. Also upstairs there’s a full menu where you can actually order entrees like rib-eye steak, while downstairs you can only order apps like fries and nachos.
So I told my friend to leave the bit of bench that she snagged and we extracted ourselves from the crowded bar to go upstairs, our $8 beers in hand. We easily found a corner of the airy loft with free velvet couches and armchairs and just sat back and enjoyed the scene. A pool table sat beside a dark wood wall with cathedral-like stained glass windows but the lighting was too dim to play. The crowd upstairs was a mix of young and old, nothing really special but very, um, vanilla. And a lot of them were smoking cigarettes. I guess that should have clued me in right there that something was up.
We sat there for a good 10 minutes before a waitress came over to clear the table next to us. Then she asked us if we were there with a member. “No,” I answered truthfully, at the same time wondering if she was for real. “Ohhh, this is a members-only club. You’re only allowed up here if you’re with a member. My boss pointed you out so I thought I’d ask.”
The 900 Club is a private affair for dues-paying members, so you probably won’t get in, but the room is a cathedral-like ’70s anomaly, with roughhewn cedar paneling and tall stained-glass windows from a church. After hours, the local chefs smoke cigars and drink wine, which makes this Manhattan Beach’s secret gastronomic heart.
There’s no sensation weirder than someone telling you you don’t belong somewhere. A part of me felt outraged, recalling Women’s Lib, Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., and then I looked around and realized I didn’t care all that much if I wasn’t allowed up there.
Later I found out that to be a member of that upstairs club, you have to pay something like $2,000 a year and $100 a month which goes toward a bar tab. And with that membership, you get the privilege of being a member of this South Bay “gentleman’s club” where you can order from a menu of entrees and from the bar without having to take out your wallet, smoke cigarettes and cigars, listen to bands, and have a place to escape the crowds. Woo. Rumor has it that Matthew Fox is a member but I honestly didn’t see anyone beautiful there. Maybe it was an off night.
I’d like to check out the Side Door again, but only if I can get there early enough to find a seat downstairs.
900 Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan Beach, California 90266
Cross Street: Ninth Street