Former cultural watering-hole becomes private club
Gourmands and cigar enthusiasts pay EUR 2,000 subscription
By Sami Soininen
The venerable Kirja (the name in English is "Book") restaurant in Helsinki's Kruununhaka district has undergone a makeover. This tradition-rich restaurant and bar, decorated in the functionalist style, has been re-opened as a private club.
The newly-launched KirjaClub will allow members to knock back their own drinks and puff on fine cigars even after the new legislation on smoking comes into force in June of this year, since it is not open to the public - unless they are there as guest accompanying a member and taking a look around the place.
The man behind the venture is the CEO of Helsinki GourmetClub, Markku Kukkonen. Kukkonen acknowledges that the new law on smoking in public premises has speeded up the process, but says that there has been a demand for a private club such as this for some time.
"The truth of it is that you can't go puffing on a 20-euro cigar in some smoking hutch or out on the sidewalk", says Kukkonen, who confesses to being something of a cigar buff himself.
He comments that the legality of the club format has been checked with the Product Control Agency for Welfare and Health, with the Provincial Office for Southern Finland, and with the police. "But you do not actually need any form of licence for club activities such as this. We are not going to be selling anything."
All the same, those without a decently-padded wallet should not dream of securing membership, since in order to partake of the KirjaClub ambience it is necessary to buy a share in Helsinki GourmetClub, with a price-tag of EUR 2,000. On top of this will come a monthly membership fee that is currently set at EUR 30.
"Still, when you think about it, for that sort of money all you'd get in the centre of Helsinki would be an apartment of 0.3 square metres, and we are offering members the use of 300 square metres", says Kukkonen.
Every shareholder-member will get their own locakble locker on the downstairs floor of the premises, with space for their own drinks and a humidor for cigars. The downstairs area also has a private dining room that seats ten people, for meetings or for something like wine-tasting sessions, for instance.
The only staff members are a club landlord and hostess, and as it happens neither of them really have to be present, since each member can get into the club from the outside door using their own smart card and pin-code. There will also be a recording CCTV camera on the site and camera surveillance on access doors.
The upstairs clubroom includes a dining area, bridge tables, and a cigar lounge equipped with a large plasma TV, and a library corner.
The furnishings are still not quite complete, but the idea is to create a warm ambience, a home away from home or a second living-room, explains the club's resident landlord Jukka-Pekka Lähdevuori.
His task is to "keep things together" and to arrange theme-evenings, for example on the subjects of cigars or fine wines. There are also plans afoot for gourmet cooking courses, to be organised in collaboration with Henrik Poulsen, owner of the Henri'X restaurant chain. Poulsen's own catering firm is also responsible for the food served in the dining area.
According to Markku Kukkonen, around 70 of the initial issue of 300 shares have been taken up. The majority of the members are men, but women are also welcomed and certainly this is not a gender-restrictive gentlemen's club.
"Our members come from all walks of life. For some of them cigars are the important issue, and for others it is wine and good food. We have shareholders from all over Finland, even Kittilä in Lapland", says Kukkonen.
A number of companies have also expressed an interest in the venture, as in future it will be possible to arrange lunch meetings with business associates in the club, or to do some work on the laptop - there is a separate WiFi area.
KirjaClub is also trying to secure from the City of Helsinki a couple of boat-moorings at the nearby Siltavuorenranta marina, so that in the summer months it might be possible to pop in from one's own boat.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 27.2.2007
More on this subject:
FACTFILE: A former meeting-place for the printing trade
KirjaClub (in Finnish)
SAMI SOININEN / Helsingin Sanomat