David Barton Charges Back Into Chelsea, Gambling that High End Gym Will Work Once Again

The luxury gym pioneer David Barton has returned to his original Chelsea gym.He’s charging a very pricey $180 a month plus a $300 sign up fee and dusted off a familiar marketing phrase: “Look Better Naked,”, as he gambles that luxury gym market that he championed originally in the 90s is ready for a comeback.

| 11 Sep 2023 | 05:26

Gym titan David Barton is back: bigger, better, and bolder than ever taking over the sprawling gym on 215 W. 23rd that once bore his name.Perhaps due to his absence, the club fell on hard times and closed all of its locations in 2016 after he sold it to New York Sports Club, whose parent company ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2020.

Even before Barton soared to fame in the ‘90s with his eponymously named gym, the site had already achieved its own underground celebrity status as the YMCA that inspired the Village People’s anthem. And right across the street from they gym that sits between Seventh and Eighth Ave. is another historic Chelsea locale which recently experience its own revitalization: The Chelsea Hotel, including the legendary El Quijote restaurant, and the newest hot-spot, Cafe Chelsea.

Barton, a Chelsea native and New York City icon, founded his first eponymous gym in 1992, which expanded and thrived until he sold it in 2013 to New York Sports Club, a subsidiary or Town Sports International. But the fitness buff could only stay idle so long, and he invented TMPL, under many of the same tenets as David Barton Gym, but with the backing of the NYSC guys who bought out the David Barton chain in the first place.

After just a year, however, the 5’ 5” powerhouse sold the new gym to them in its entirety, easing in to a voluntary retirement. With the resources he had earned from his illustrious career, and the cosmopolitan connections throughout the world he had amassed throughout his dynamic life in the city, he embarked upon some adventurous global travel, always returning to his home base of the city. And again, like before, it became hard to keep Barton down.

Luckily, Barton’s foundation is as big as his biceps, and when the real estate of his original stomping grounds again availed itself, he bought back his namesake and all the trimmings with the help of a loyal “friends and family” network that have always stood by his well-muscled side. With inspiration and knowledge gleaned from travel observations, he launched U by David Barton, a brand-shiney new version of the old gym, with everything that was great about it..... and something more. Here, he is going after the same luxury gym market that was part of his original brand, mixing a little bit of disco and a lot of scientific innovation right alongside some good old fashioned sweat.

As New York magazine once said, Barton “can be considered a pioneer, the first to brand a New York City gym with ¬something other than fluorescent lighting and peppy primary colors. Instead, he ¬created the health-club-as-nightclub experience. A shamelessly sexy Spartacus. Part disco, part gym, part porn set.”

“Gyms are historically stuck in scientific antiquity,” Barton once told Forbes. “Giving two people the same exercise prescription can make one lose weight and the other gain weight. I want to give people the greatest possible chance to have the body that they are looking for, and we can’t do that without understanding what’s really going on with the metabolism.”

The ability to “Look Better Naked” (his slogan from the original) reintroduced itself on June 2nd of this year. Entering the club feels momentous; one ascends a dramatic stoop towards poster-lacquered front doors, where reception scans an app that affords entry. Speaking of affording, memberships are $180 month after a $300 initiation fee, commensurate to other upscale New York gyms, but at U, he says you get much more bang for your buck.

The addition of U to the David Barton name emphasizes the focus on individual optimization, and to that end, every aspect of a workout can be tailored to the member using the most modern and innovative technology. The club itself is sleek and spacious; Barton wanted to retain the sexy ambiance he is known for, but the focus is on serious fitness.

“A lot of technology here that I saw traveling” has been implemented, such as Precision Health diagnostic tools, epigenetic personalization and professional trainers that are available to members to optimize their workout.

Even the dressing rooms are a bit posh, stocked with abundant towels, complimentary toiletries and full-time attendants. There’s a sauna and steam room for those post-workout kinks, and state-of-the-art recovery equipment. In fact, everything at the gym is of the top-notch, cutting-edge ilk.

The gym is equipped with machines from premium brands like MATRIX and Panatta, the latter an Italian brand adding a bit of bella figura. And there’s a ton of elbow room for all that equipment: the gym spans about 35,000 square feet across three floors, including studio space for specialized fitness classes and independent utilization. Classes, which are led by a hand-picked Studio Crew of talented professionals, include HIIT (high intensity interval training), specific body part optimization, cardio, strength and flexibility workouts, all with quirky and inspiring names like HIIT Me Up, Barton Booty, and Monster Yoga, respectively.

All of the above comes along with your membership, which costs $180 a month after a one time enrollment fee of $300. That said, summer rates are still available, so if you’re thinking of joining, now is the time, Barton urges. In addition to all the perks included in membership, there are also high tech recovery and optimization modalities that can be purchased. Neubie, a cutting-edge neuromuscular device, promotes healing and neuromuscular reeducation to get bigger results more easily and in a much shorter time. There are IV therapies in the form of drips that can be personalized to treat and address deficiencies and post-workout revitalization. And not to get too clinical, in the works is a cafe in partnership with another NYC icon: Billy Gilroy of Employees Only. To be called Mush Room, the eatery will focus on nutriceuticals and a mushroom-centric (the legal kind, of course) menu that highlights the benefits of the fungus. As if that’s not enough, and in keeping with Barton’s nightclub posterity, there’s a DJ spinning on select nights, currently featuring DJ Erol on Tuesdays.

Barton notes membership at this point is primarily male, but the club is more than welcoming to any and every demographic, in part due to his omnipresence at the facility. He is usually there to keep an eye on things. But even more so are the employees Barton hand selected, some of which have been with him “since the ’90’s”. He said he has collected “great people over time, and when I’m doing a project they come together and help make it happen.” Which is precisely how U has orchestrated its comeback, here to make you the best you possible.