The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Is ‘The Wing’ too hopelessly Manhattan for the working women of Washington?

Audrey Gelman, the founder of The Wing — a women’s-only co-working space and social club — is opening a branch of the popular chain in Washington this month. (Evelyn Hockstein/for The Washington Post)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s first name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

A pink truck rolled around the District last week giving out coffee, gourmet cookies and swag to spread the gospel of the Wing, a women-only co-working space and social club.

“In sisters we trust,” say the stickers.

“A home base for women on their way,” say the pamphlets.

“No Man’s Land,” says the magazine.

On Thursday, doors open to the Wing’s Washington outpost; for a fee its members can hustle and primp and nosh and network without breathing in the fumes of excessive testosterone.

“We’re a coven, not a sorority,” declares the Wing’s Instagram page.

Well — welcome to Washington, Wing witches.

In our city you’ll find no shortage of women making trouble, making history, making a difference. At this point, not many of us choose to work our magic while sipping almond milk lattes while sitting on velvet club chairs overlooking the canal in Georgetown. But we’re eager to see if you can change that. After all, why not fight the patriarchy while testing complimentary Chanel serums in a honey-hued beauty room?

The Wing was founded in Manhattan by Lauren Kassan and Audrey Gelman. Kassan, 30, is a veteran of the fitness start-up ClassPass. Gelman, also 30, is a former media person who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and was the spokeswoman for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. She is also a New York media mainstay who caught the attention of magazine editors by mixing politics and high fashion. She’s one of Lena Dunham’s best friends and the inspiration behind the “Girls” character Marnie. Her 2016 wedding has its own slide show on the website of Vogue.

Gelman says she had the original idea for the Wing on a train trip from New York to Washington. Like countless times before, she applied her makeup in a bathroom aboard the Acela, prepping for a day of meetings.

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a space in Union Station where women could change?” she remembers thinking.

As Gelman and Kassan germinated the concept, historian Alexis Coe introduced them to the Woman’s Club movement of the Progressive era, when women gathered to push for civil rights and social good. “Then we were off to the races,” Gelman says.

Did they make a difference? One year later, Women’s March attendees look back.

The Wing opened its first location in the Flatiron District of Manhattan in October 2016, three weeks before the presidential election. Part of their intention, Gelman says, was to celebrate “the golden age of women in power.” Then 300 members gathered to watch election returns and “the concept of the Wing went from something triumphant to something that felt more protective overnight,” Gelman says.

The women in her orbit “went from feeling fired up and ready to go to feeling frightened,” Gelman adds. “And wanting to seek out safe spaces.”

Riding the currents of the gig economy and the tsunami of horror-fueled feminism, the Wing opened two additional New York spaces last year and raised more than $40 million in funding. Its investors include the founders of SoulCycle and a fellow office-sharing company, WeWork.

Washington marks the Wing’s first expansion outside New York. Members will walk into a 10,000-square-foot space of soaring ceilings, skylights and sea-foam-green walls. There’s a cafe that sells eggs all day, a gallery of women’s art and a merchandise corner offering $17.50 keychains that say, “Girls doing whatever the [expletive] they want in 2018.” The air smells of fig-scented candles, the books are organized by color, fuchsia to aquamarine. The Wing is meant to be a home away from home — just way nicer than any home most of you will ever own.

By all accounts, the Wing has been a smash in New York. During the day, it operates mostly as a co-working space where Wing members (who applied and were accepted and pay $2,350 a year) sit with laptops or lunch at the in-house cafe or take business meetings with other humans who identify as women. (Guests are allowed, but not the male-identifying sort.)

At night it transforms into a social hub — the bar opens, book clubs meet, speakers give talks. There are crafting events, volunteer projects, movie screenings. Big names such as Jennifer Lawrence, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Hillary Clinton have popped in for private Q&A sessions.

All of this takes place in a highly stylized, Instagram-ready environment. Millennial Pink, of course, is the Wing’s signature color. And each space is designed, Gelman says, to embody the feel of “a really cool Danish woman’s apartment.” No opportunity for hipness is left untaken. (If you want to reach out to the coven, you can email sup@the-wing.
. Sup will write you back.)

So will the witches of Washington take to this concept? After all, many women moved to the District with the express purpose of devoting their lives to the ideas promoted by the Wing — equal rights, progressive policies, social justice. And for their efforts Washingtonians are rewarded with long hours, mediocre salaries, towering rents and precious little spare scratch for weekly blowouts.

This is the D.C. of no-reservation restaurants, hipster plant shops and cocktails at the Line Hotel. It is also (still) the D.C. of slug lines, vegan group houses and friends who miss happy hour because they’re crashing on a quarterly report for their job at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Warby Parker on the surface, sneakers-with-nylons to the core.

Meg Biram, an artist and blogger, thinks the Wing probably will work here, though she declined her own invitation to apply. “Co-working spaces are doing really well in D.C. right now,” she says. “But I have some odd feelings about it at the same time.”

Her big quarrel: Why pick a space in Georgetown? “Going to Georgetown at 6 o’clock is probably the worst nightmare of the city,” she says. “If they’re so up-and-coming, feminist, hipster, it should be in Shaw or H Street — someplace way easier, Metro accessible.”

Gelman says they chose the Georgetown spot in part because the building is steeped in history — it was once home to the first all-female architecture firm. “It’s a destination, and we understand that,” Gelman says, adding that they may open more branches in other parts of Washington.

Erin Golightly, a 32-year-old program specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, said the location was a hang-up for her. But she was drawn to the club’s focus on women’s empowerment and progressive activism. And, after two years in Washington, she wanted to put down roots and really find a community, something she’s hoping to do at the Wing. “Ultimately I decided it was definitely an investment — and not just in myself personally, but also an investment in this idea of a collective where everyone who participates grows together,” she says. “I strongly believe in the power of women from all walks of life coming together and actively engaging in social issues.

Pamela Sorenson, a longtime D.C. blogger and business executive, wonders how the single-gender mandate will fly in Washington. “Sometimes, putting all women together in an environment can be an aggressive environment,” she says. “I was in a sorority. I know there are times when women don’t get along.”

Last month, New York City's Commission on Human Rights confirmed it was investigating the Wing for possible discrimination because of its women-only policy. Gelman says they're working with the city and have the support of the mayor. "It's vital for women to carve out their own space and not have to shrink themselves to accommodate men and male energy," she says.

After reports of the investigation came out, fans took to the Internet to back the Wing. Among those who tweeted their support: Amber Tamblyn, Roxane Gay, Monica Lewinsky and Joe Lockhart.

Lockhart, the former Clinton White House spokesman, is husband to Giovanna Gray Lockhart, the Wing’s director for civic engagement. (The couple first rented and then sold their Kalorama home to the Obamas when they moved to New York.) Giovanna Lockhart is helping to plan programming for the D.C. location. First up on the docket is a panel discussion of female reporters covering the Trump White House, then a sound bath meditation. Free blowouts from Glamsquad’s team of roving stylists will be offered on one of the first Saturdays.

“At the Wing, every aspect of a woman’s life — all of her interests, all of her pursuits — are treated equally,” says Lockhart, who previously served as an aide to Gillibrand and as the D.C. editor of Glamour magazine. “When I worked on the Hill and lived in Washington, I always felt like you had to sort of diminish those [more feminine] aspects in order to be taken seriously. And I think one of the great gifts that millennials have given us is, ‘No, you don’t have to diminish any aspect of yourself to be taken seriously.’”

The Wing won’t say how many women have applied to the D.C. location or how many members it’s launching with. (“Those are not numbers we can share as they are constantly changing,” according to a spokeswoman.) Earlier this month it announced plans to open in six additional locations, including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London.

On Tuesday night, the Wing will host an opening bash in Georgetown. “It’s Skull and Bones-themed,” Gelman says. “Very secret society.”

And that makes sense. Witchcraft works best away from prying eyes.