Welcome to the club: Common House takes over former Mentor Lodge space

The space at 206 W. Market St., which was
home to a former social club called Mentor Lodge, will now house Common House. Staff photo The space at 206 W. Market St., which was home to a former social club called Mentor Lodge, will now house Common House. Staff photo

The space for a 7,000-square-foot private club on West Market Street was purchased in 2013, and what plans call a “brick and mortar establishment” may be one step closer to becoming a reality.

A joint public hearing between Charlottesville City Council and the City Planning Commission was held Tuesday night after C-VILLE went to press, to discuss a special use permit for the space, which the city requires for private club-type dwellings. Beforehand, Brian Haluska, the principal planner with Neighborhood Development Services who was scheduled to present the report, said he didn’t think he’d see much public concern at the meeting.

Derek Sieg, Josh Rogers and Ben Pfinsgraff are the men behind the club at 206 W. Market St., called Common House in their application submitted to the city November 24. The application states it will be social in nature and “where individual members can meet to dine together or simply for personal connection sometimes lost in the days of online social media.”

Common House will go into the building that was constructed for Mentor Lodge in 1913, a social club intended for the then largely African-American neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, and for which the building provided “a venue for dances, political meetings and music for more than six decades,” the men cite in their application. The space has housed different businesses over the years, including Studio 206, a fitness studio.

Amenities planned for Common House include a banquet hall, lounge, tea room, library, bridge room, billiards room, bars, kitchen, office and rooftop terrace.

An introduction letter from the club to prospective members of both sexes describes a contemporary social club “built to meet the substantial and growing desire in our culture for true, meaningful connection with likeminded people.” There’s mention of bridge and chess leagues and all-day “well-crafted” food and drink, too.

Sieg says the club won’t be invite only, but he and his partners initially sent out fewer than 100 invitations.

“We’re trying to build a place that’s going to be very inclusive,” he says, adding that there will probably be a limit to the number of people who can join.

“We want it to be a place that’s lively,” Sieg says, “but one where you can count on getting a table when you go in.”

Membership to the club will also include special programming, such as a Common Knowledge Series, an ongoing series of seminars by local craftsmen ranging from home craft brewing to “whole hog butchery,” as noted in the application. The owners declined to disclose how much a membership will cost.

According to Planning Commission meeting minutes, city staff says the proposed private club would not be out of character for the downtown area and would complement nearby businesses, but they do have concerns about the potential for a new owner to change the club’s business model in the future. For that reason, staff imposed the condition that there should be no noise, vibration or odor beyond the confines of the building between 1 and 8am.

In a December 15 meeting, the Board of Architectural Review recommended approval of the special use permit in a 7-0 vote.

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