Nestled in the Jackson Square neighborhood near San Francisco’s northeastern waterfront sits the Battery, an extravagant, members-only social club. The ground floor is filled with dark wood tables, leather sofas, and local artwork, all surrounding a glass and steel staircase. On the second floor, past antique phone booths and a piano bar with a Steinway, a passageway hidden behind a bookcase leads to a private card room. Dues are $2,400 a year, not including food, drink, or access to the gym or one of the 14 hotel suites. “I see how it can represent extreme wealth,” says Xochi Birch, who co-founded the club with her husband, Michael, a year ago.
In 2008 the Birches were on the right side of a bad deal, selling their now dormant social network Bebo to AOL for $850 million; last year they got it back from buyout firm Criterion Capital Partners for $1 million. The couple opened the Battery last October, amid growing outcries in San Francisco about soaring rents caused by the tech boom, as well as protests against the buses Google and other companies use to transport employees. The club was pilloried as an exemplar of the city’s growing inequality. (And that was before anyone saw the basement men’s-room wallpaper, which depicts clothed men frolicking with naked prostitutes.)