What do men want? What do women want? Ron Johnson, Johnny Martin and Dustin Morgan hope their new venture will appeal to both sexes.
Johnny Martin’s Car Central is a private club located in a 7,500-square-foot space on the ground floor of the Central Bancorp building at 1 S. Nevada Ave. It’s the first private club to open its doors downtown since the Plaza Club closed 20 years ago.
Unlike the El Paso Club a few blocks away, Car Central is open to members of both sexes. And while it may appeal to the kind of affluent young men who once thronged the El Paso Club, it also targets a female demographic.
Johnson, Central Bancorp’s president, and famed Alamosa auto restorer, Martin, imagined the venue as “a club for car lovers to enjoy the camaraderie of others who are just as passionate about their hobby as they are.” It wouldn’t be “a typical man cave,” but rather a “sophisticated venue that would appeal not only to the passionate car lover, but to their spouses as well.”
The club’s sleek, contemporary space includes six TV screens, a pair of $70,000 race-car simulators in a glass-enclosed space, a bar, a members-only restaurant, comfortable chairs and tables and, of course, cars.
These are not cars any sane owner would park on the street. There’s a fully restored 1965 Shelby Cobra, a 1960s dragster, a fully customized 1957 Ford Cameo pickup on a mirrored floor and a half-dozen others. All are as carefully displayed as Renaissance sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the latest Jeff Koons creations at Gagosian.
“We’re building a little community here,” said executive director Dustin Morgan, “one which will appeal to older as well as younger members. We’re trying to meld two worlds — the blue-collar world of restoration and white-collar collectors.”
Car Central is open Wednesday through Sunday, serving lunch and dinner. The space will be available for events as well, and members may use their cards to enter at any time.
As private clubs go, memberships are relatively inexpensive. There’s a one-time initiation fee of $3,000 and monthly dues of $100 per month. Corporate memberships are available for $7,500 plus $250 per month.
Does Car Central threaten the venerable El Paso Club? Will today’s young movers and shakers be more comfortable mingling with their peers at a more democratic and less formal venue?
Some members of the El Paso Club have called for the organization to admit women into its ranks, but without success. When the question was put to a vote in 2011, 69 percent of the club’s 293 members voted against it.
Car Central’s founders don’t buy the idea that they’re competing with the El Paso Club. They want to build “a hub of social interaction within beautiful surroundings,” not provide smoke-filled rooms where power players can make deals.
Morgan says Car Central is off to a good start.
“We’re offering 33 founding memberships,” she said, “based on the lineup of the Indianapolis 500. Most of those are taken. We’re capping the total membership rolls at 300. We think that a lot of people will welcome the opportunity to come downtown on Friday or Saturday night, have a good meal, enjoy good company, and not have to deal with the Tejon Street scene.”
Especially when they can enjoy gazing longingly at the cars.