New York’s Astor Club Makes Noise in Cali

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The Astor Club is one of New York City’s premier private clubs for insider weedheads. Recently, the club was present at Puffcon in Los Angeles and held their own private sesh in DTLA. The Astor Club already has a fanbase in California.

Founded in 2019 by Matt and Ben, the Astor Club was technically the second private smoke club in NYC after Happy Monkey, which had to shutter due to Coronavirus.

The men describe Astor as a private member’s club community in New York.

“It’s kind of the center of the cannabis community in New York, a place where people can go and smoke and relax. But it’s really a community of weed smokers,” Ben said.

Ben and Matt came to work together after both had spent decades in the weed industry. Ben was active with political campaigns to decriminalize marijuana, and he also acted as a judge for cannabis competitions. Since first learning to smoke as a teen, he was, he says, always driven to find the best weed.

Matt ran a weed delivery service for years in NYC, at great risk to himself. He delt with many arrests and all of the dangers of a black market operation.

With their Legacy ties, they teamed up to start the Astor Club inspired by the idea of coffee shops in Amsterdam.

The result is that Astor helped to usher in a trend in private smoking clubs in downtown NYC. The city now boasts an entire scene of similar clubs. The approach is catching on more and more in California.

While they weren’t the first, Ben and Matt have witness the influence they’ve had.

“We came into existence as Happy Monkey had to stop for a while, we were friends with them. I loved going to their spot. And when they had shut down for a while, we needed a place to go,” Matt said.

How did they succeed in making an impact with Astor?

“It was a lot of luck,” Matt says.

“We’re passionate about cannabis. And because of being passionate about cannabis, it’s put us in very different positions. I’ve worked in the industry on and off for 20 years, Ben is super passionate and was doing his own thing and then got involved with advocacy and from street art to culture and stuff like that. We were able to just put it all together and bring it into Astor Club,” Matt said.

Ben worked for years with NORML, the organization formed in the 1970s that has fircely advocated for decriminalization and the right to grow and consume weed. But he was also always a conoisseur smoker.

“My whole life has been hanging out and smoking weed with other people, just looking for better and better weed and hanging out with other weed smokers who are also looking for better and better weed and love weed and are passionate about weed,” Ben said. “Weed nerds and weed connoisseurs, entrepreneurs and everybody who just considers themselves part of the cannabis community,” Ben said of the culture he comes from.

While Ben advocated for legalization, he didn’t always consider the way that the culture would be impacted by taxes and regulation.

“We didn’t think about the ramifications of legalization. We never thought about commercialization, we never thought about regulations and big corporations coming into cannabis, never occurred to anybody. The only thing we were thinking about was, don’t send people to jail for it,” Ben said.

Ben and Matt are part of the legacy culture that started long before New York legalized weed.

“We definitely started before legalization or decriminalization. When we started, what we were doing was definitely not okay and we were serious about being very private and underground and discrete,” Ben said.

Ben says that the Astor Club is the fulfillment of a life-long dream.

“We were just the right people for the right time. For both of us—-for me, for sure–this was the only way I ever wanted to be part of the cannabis community. It was always this model of having a place where people could hang out and smoke together comfortably and safely.”

The idea of a dispensary, he said, was not it.

“That was just never even an option for me, the whole idea of having a dispensary only where you can’t smoke seems so contrary to my experience,” Ben said.

He wanted a place where you could both buy and smoke weed, true to the traditinonal culture.

“Smoking has always been part of the purchasing of weed culture for us,” Ben said.

Ben and Matt have made inroads to the California scene, and California brands have sought them out in New York.

“Last year, we did Hall of Flowers, and we did Puffcon. And when we did Puffcon, the scene had just reopened, so we got to meet a lot of people that we hadn’t met before,” Matt said.

He says that California has embraced them. This year, the Astor Club will return to Puffcon in Los Angeles, where they’ll be sponsoring a booth. (Check them out this Saturday, October 1st in DTLA). They’re also hosting a private event while in town.

“We’ve been very lucky to be taken on the scene by a lot of our friends who are in the industry. If I need advice, it’s great that I’m able to call these guys. So, we’re really happy to be at Puffcon and see old friends and be a part of it this year,” Matt said.

And California is now looking to NYC to see what’s next in weed.

“Every big brand is going to spend time in New York because they want to make the most money, it’s the biggest market in the world,” Matt said.

“We have the most people, we have the most tourists and we’re going to be a bigger market than California. We are going to be able to sell more products. Good, bad, whatever it is, New York is the biggest market in the world. So, if you were a big brand, you would look at New York immediately,” Matt said.

The influence of the Astor Club is being felt in California.

“I’m usually pretty humble about things, but I have to say a lot of people who are opening things in California are people who have come in by Astor club and experienced it and I think have really been influenced by it,” Ben said.

“People here in California seem to be really enchanted by this unique cannabis culture that New York’s developed that’s centered around these meeting places. And again, it’s just something that comes naturally to us,” Ben said.

They can even see bringing the club to California, once New York sorts out its own regulations.

“we’re New Yorkers first. And New York is obviously our home and where we’d like to establish our roots before we’re anywhere else. But California has always been a second home to us. So, we’d love to explore going down that path when it is time.”

While they may have kicked off the scene in NYC, they are no longer the only ones. They’re not bothered by others taking their idea.

“I’m not upset about people copying us at all. It’s great for the culture, there are 10 million people in New York, and there is space for all of us,” Ben said.

The vibe of their space is comfortable, relaxed, and open to all.

“We’re not coming up with any genius idea. We’re a living room. You sit around, you meet your friends, you meet new people, with one of the most diverse crowds you can think of. You asked about all these famous people and stuff that have come here. We have retired school teachers, we have medical patients, and we have every walk of life. And I think that’s what makes us special,” Matt said.

Being conoisseurs always chasing after the best weed, the club’s offerings reflect their owner’s taste.

“We make sure that we have the very, very best product. And that’s what makes us special and that’s what separates us from the pack,” Matt said.

“Good weed brings everybody together.”

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