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Bloomberg News Article

Written by Andrew Fixmer 6-13-2007

Link to Bloomberg News  Reporter Bob Hoenig Audio Interview with Club 33 Manager, Gary Maggetti


Club 33 Is Disneyland's Haven for Johnny Depp, Chevron, Booze

  June 13 (Bloomberg) -- The hottest attraction at Disneyland may be the biggest secret.

It's not plotted on any official Disneyland maps. Thousands of tourists pass by every day, oblivious. Only a number discreetly posted next to an unmarked door indicates where the exclusive Club 33 sits.

That's the way the club likes it.

 

The low profile isn't hurting the members-only restaurant: The wait to join stretches out nine years. Even for members, it's necessary to call months in advance to book a table for the peak summer months or holidays.

Most of the members are corporations, including San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp. and San Antonio-based AT&T Inc. Both are original members of the club founded 40 years ago by Walt Disney himself. A visit to the club and park in Anaheim, California, is often used to reward employees or treat favored clients.

``It's a unique facility,'' said Alex Yelland, a Chevron spokesman. ``It's a once-in-a-lifetime, priceless experience. It has that cachet.''

Now Walt Disney Co., based in Burbank, California, is opening the door a crack. It plans to increase the 487-member roster, said Gary Maggetti, who oversees Club 33 as head of Disneyland's food and beverage services. He said the total probably won't be raised much above 500. The challenge is figuring out how to allocate the new memberships.

``The number of memberships is one thing, but the ratio of corporate memberships to individuals is more important because of how they use it differently,'' Maggetti said. ``We have to find the right balance.''

Fees and Meals

Corporate memberships, which cost $20,000 plus $5,825 in annual fees and $4,375 a year for extra members, rarely turn over and are used more frequently, he said. Individual memberships run $7,500 plus $3,025 in annual dues.

On top of that, members must pay for their meals, prepared by a chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. A recent lunch for four, without alcohol, came to $257 before tip. It's the only place in the park where alcohol is served, and the wine list offers $200 vintages.

Diners are more likely to be executives from AT&T, Boeing Co., Chevron or Coca-Cola Co. than occasional celebrity guests such as actor Johnny Depp or musician Elton John, who has played the antique harpsichord in the hallway, said Michael Bracco, Club 33's manager.

``It's similar to buying a stadium suite or courtside seats at Lakers games,'' said Randall Hiatt, president of Costa Mesa, California-based restaurant consultancy Fessell International Inc., which has advised Disneyland on Club 33. ``It's all about taking care of your very best customers.''

Fascinated Fans

The secretiveness inspires a cult-like fascination among some Disneyland fans. They post elaborate reports about their visits to Club 33, fret about the lengthy waiting list, and sell Club 33 trinkets on EBay. A page on the Mouse Planet Web site, http://www.mouseplanet.com , is devoted to Club 33's restrooms, including photos of the women's toilets and men's urinals.

``A lot of the reason people want to go to Club 33 is the exclusivity and the location,'' said Tony Phoenix of Lakewood, California, a co-founder and chief technical officer of Mouse Planet. ``For many years, it was shrouded as a mystery and Disney didn't really acknowledge it even existed.''

For many fans, the main attraction is the direct link to founder Walt Disney. He came up with the idea of a club to entertain dignitaries, hired Hollywood set director Emil Kuri, and traveled to New Orleans to handpick much of the Victorian bric-a-brac, Bracco said. Disney died at age 65, five months before the club's opening in May 1967.

Disney's Genius

``The exclusivity attracts people, but the real draw runs much deeper,'' said Dale, who runs an unofficial Club 33 Web site, http://www.disneylandclub33.com . ``Within the club, the genius of Walt Disney is felt throughout.''

Access to the club is restricted to members with reservations, and their parties. Even a Disneyland spokesman giving a tour wasn't allowed inside on one occasion.

To enter, guests lift a hidden panel in the doorway, push a buzzer on an intercom and provide a name to the receptionist. Only then will the door open to a small lobby designed like an old-fashioned French hotel, complete with a spiral staircase that wraps around a reproduction of an antique lift.

The upstairs is split between two dining rooms: one light- filled and formal, the other with dark wood paneling and an animatronic California turkey vulture.

The restaurant is decorated with props from Disney films, including a table from ``Mary Poppins'' and the wooden telephone booth used in ``The Happiest Millionaire.''

Even with membership dues and meal charges, Club 33 doesn't provide a windfall for Disneyland, said Hiatt, the restaurant consultant. The restaurant's annual revenue is probably about $25 million, based on an average $65 check, 80 percent occupancy and membership dues, he said.

The theme park doesn't break out the club's sales, said Robert Tucker, a Disneyland spokesman.

``It's not a huge money maker,'' Hiatt said. ``But they get a lot of mileage and benefit out of it.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

 

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