While in line for my iced Americano, I hear rumblings about a new contender in the fitness space opening in Hollywood, dangerously close to my apartment. A guy in front of me whispers, “It’s like Equinox meets Soho House, with a splash of WeWork.” I wipe the drool from my chin and inquire how one might gain entry to such a magical place.
Turns out he was talking about Heimat, a “fitness concept club,” where membership is by application only, which means: Send us your Instagram handle and … we’ll call you. On its sleek website, I learn that “heimat” is a German word used to describe “that familiar feeling of where your heart feels at home.” And with the catchphrase, “There’s no place like Heimat,” it’s giving Wizard of Oz, if Oz were a ripped personal trainer slash wellness guru.
Membership is $150 a month for those under 25 years old (lucky), and $350 a month for the geezers like me (although when I joined, that fee was $250/month). I do some quick mental arithmetic to decipher how many iced Americanos I’d have to sacrifice to offset this cost (too many) and hit “Apply.” I’m 29, gay and, in many ways, alone — there’s no time to waste.
Two days later I’m touring the place. The email instructs me to enter through a back alley via a golden door. I’m Dorothy, and this is my yellow brick road. I step into a dimly lit living room/lobby lined with open bookshelves and velvet furniture. There’s a fireplace without any fire and a bar cart without any alcohol. A man with a tousled pompadour introduces me to a woman with pigtails named Poupy who will be my guide.
I try my best to assume the posture of someone who wants for nothing as Poupy shows me the kingdom. The first floor houses traditional weight lifting equipment and there’s a separate cardio room with lighting fixtures shaped like clouds. The design is undeniably sexy — the ceilings are high; the equipment is sleek; the walls are marbled, mirrored or muraled, with large windows framing a breathtaking view of … La Brea traffic. “Oh wow!” I gasp.
The second floor contains the locker rooms, sauna and spa, as well as a meditation room lined with daybeds and blankets (which, forgive me, but with its close proximity to men in various states of undress feels like a sex room). The third floor has more machines and rooms for classes — Heimat offers every variety from boxing to heated yoga — and the fourth is the only public access floor of the building, wherein lies Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina’s restaurant Mother Tongue and the private rooftop pool and hot tub. The fifth and final floor is a gorgeous co-working space where I’m certain I’ll finish my nonexistent screenplay.
As she brings me back to the lobby, Poupy asks me what I do for work. I inflate my job title to impress her, but she’s already bidding me adieu. The man with the pompadour returns and, unprompted, I tell him I’m considering converting from Equinox since Heimat is so much closer to my apartment. This is not entirely true — I go to Crunch where the air conditioning has been broken for months — but again I feel compelled to assert some sort of pedigree. He informs me they’ve been overloaded with applications but they’ll be in touch soon. I say thank you, wave bye to Poupy and try not to let the golden door hit me on my way out.
It’s almost two weeks before I hear back. They love to play hard to get. I giddily open the email — accepted! — and waste no time reading the DocuSign. When I arrive at the total, $550 including the registration fee (more than I’ve ever paid for a gym in my life), I take a deep breath and pull out my credit card. I experience an almost perverse joy as I type the digits and whisper, “I’m doing this for me.”
Cut to me opening Grindr within my first five minutes in the facility as a new member. It’s important to get a lay of the land. Sadly, the closest profile is more than 1,000 feet away, but I won’t lose hope.
I prance around picking dumbbells up and putting them down. I try to act like I know where everything is, like I was born to be here. The place is almost entirely empty. I feel at any moment security might escort me outside, kicking and screaming, “I just wanted community!”
Nevertheless, I persist. I return dutifully each day and soon realize that, in my rush to be accepted, I forgot to ask a few questions. With no guidebook in sight, I try to pepper my inquiries with various staff members so as not to appear too needy. “Is there a steam room?” No (devastating). “Is the pool water salt or chlorine?” Chlorine (in 2022?). “Can we bring guests?” Two per year, otherwise a day pass is $100 (you have to laugh).
Throughout the week, I notice more and more people catching on to the place. For the first time, a machine I “need” is occupied and I’m forced to wait for my turn. I try to book a Pilates class but every single one has a waitlist. On more than one occasion, I walk in on an influencer taking shirtless bathroom selfies (in their defense, the backlit mirrors do flatter the body). I keep coming across #Heimat TikToks, with captions like “Will be spending all my days here” and “Soho house who?” Katy Perry even shows up on the rooftop one night. When I overhear that they’re starting to cap membership, I breathe a sigh of relief.
An email with the subject “Heimat Happenings” invites me to a few members-only events. I RSVP for a complimentary IV infusion (of what? I don’t ask, I just proffer my vein blindly) and a free drink at the first poolside “Golden Hour Sessions.” I meet a woman there who tells me, “This is the best thing to happen to the neighborhood in years.” I’m confused because we’re in Hollywood, where new restaurants and “concept spaces” seem to open daily, but the light is so bright in her eyes that I allow it. Her husband says they considered Soho House but resented its snootiness. “The people here are much more keen to talk.” And, looking around, I have to agree. It’s an eclectic mix of bright-eyed Angelenos, reveling in this almost-too-good-to-be-true shared space.
But still I want to hate it. Heimat is entirely over the top, from its exorbitant prices to its gaudy designs to its froufrou rhetoric around self-actualization and community-building. A bottle of water will run you $7 and the staff is made to wear golden shoes. And yet, what scares me is, once I stop rolling my eyes, I find I’m actually meeting new people and starting to feel, dare I say … right at home.
One Saturday, I brave the pool alone. The attendant guides me to an open chair. “Chill house music” plays just loudly enough to make reading with retention impossible, so I’m just sort of blurring my vision at an article about climate collapse when I hear, “You stole my chair.”
I look up to see a guy my age, dripping wet and smiling. My heart leaps—community? — and I jolt upward, apologizing. He assures me it’s OK, he’ll use the next chair. We get to talking about the space, comparing notes, reflecting on our good fortune. “I live here now,” he half-jokes. The vibes are good so we plan for drinks the following week. We decide we’ll meet at, you guessed it, Heimat. We’ll grab an $18 cocktail at Mother Tongue. Because, at this point, why go anywhere else?