Jared Marquette was not living his best life. Not even close.

He’d moved from Denver to Washington D.C. to work at a venture capital fund, and spent about a year facing a distressingly common problem: He felt too busy to take care of himself.  “I never went to the grocery store,” Marquette says. “I didn’t go to the gym for a year. I was really struggling with the stress of it all.”

Marquette returned to Denver, but was still working the same stressful job, when he confided in his friend Jason Shepherd, a co-founder of Atlas Real Estate Group in Denver. Shepherd suggested Marquette try breathwork—exercises in which practitioners alter their breathing patterns to achieve relaxation and other, meditation-like benefits.

Skeptical but desperate, Marquette attended a breathwork class—and loved it. “I had a pretty profound experience,” he says, “a real, physiological reaction to the breathwork.” Reinvigorated, Marquette reported back to Shepherd, and the two men began talking about the growing interest in alternative healing practices, some of which seemed poised to become as popular as yoga. Why not, they wondered, create a community for Denverites interested in bettering themselves?

And so, in July 2018, Marquette and Shepherd, along with co-founders Nora Sacks and Ryan Boykin, launched Archipelago Clubs. Members pay a monthly fee (currently $120) for access to a slew of programs, usually at no extra cost, including wellness classes like sound-healing and herb-growing workshops or seminars on relationship-building. Other gatherings focus on socializing: happy hours, comedy shows, wine tastings, and concerts.

Breathwork at the Archipelago Clubs
Meditation before a breathwork lead by member Claudia Nanino at the Archipelago Attic. Photo courtesy of Kayte Demont.

Members also receive a key to three clubhouses. The Attic, a Tahitian-inspired tree house, has a giant, movie night-friendly screen and projector. The Basement hosts a dry sauna and tanks for ice baths. The Lounge is set up for co-working and happy hour, with a nine-person bar, television set, and foosball table.

Marquette says those spaces play a critical role in Archipelago. “When we first started this, we had a very deliberate conversation about whether we wanted to be a studio, or whether we wanted to be a community,” he says. The difference? You might have, say, a great yoga class at a studio, but then you exit into a world that’s not interested in hearing about your experience. “What we wanted to do was create a space that people didn’t have to leave. After your breathwork, stick around and talk to people about it,” Marquette says.

All that talking has led to some deep bonds. Soyona Rafatjah moved to Denver from New York in January 2019. A doctor by trade, Rafatjah wanted to be part of a group filled with people passionate about bettering themselves, and when she joined Archipelago in May 2019, she found what she was looking for. “The majority of my Denver friendships were formed at Archipelago,” she says. Archipelago members have also become roommates, started businesses together, and coupled up. “There’s even an Archipelago baby now,” Marquette says.

Operating a club tied to togetherness and community got complicated in March 2020, when the novel coronavirus arrived in Colorado and necessitated social isolation. Classes were cancelled or moved online, and no one was meeting up for time in the sauna. “The impacts of isolation and being told that you can’t hug someone you love, or foster community in the same way, is something that we were really sensitive to,” says Sydney Badik, Archipelago’s membership director.

Even when the stay-at-home order lifted, capacity at the clubhouses remained extremely limited. So the co-founders got creative: If Archipelago’s usual spaces weren’t built for COVID-19, they would make new spaces.

That’s how the three clubhouses on Tennyson came to be. The trio of homes were slated for demolition, but Marquette paid the developer to hold off for a few months. The Archipelago team scattered sand in one of the homes and projected ocean scenes onto the walls to create the Beach House. The second house became a lounge with funky vintage finds, like a well-loved leather sofa and giant world map like the one you might find in an elementary school classroom. Archipelago partnered with Rainbow Militia on the third house—the Denver theatre troupe used the home as an interactive stage for immersive art performances.

Small, masked groups gathered indoors during the summer, and the backyards became new meeting spaces for certain classes. Archipelago also hosted SummerSounds, socially distanced outdoor concerts hosted every Thursday and weekly hikes (members had to sign up on the scheduler before visiting or attending events to ensure the numbers stayed low). “Being in those safe spaces and seeing familiar faces was priceless during that time,” Rafatjah says. “It created a sense of normalcy.”

The three houses closed for demolition in October 2020, and many “gatherings” and classes moved to video calls or took place with few people, masked, indoors. But Rafatjah says the summer helped her reset and power through a more isolated winter, and now that cases are dropping and vaccines are rolling out, she’s excited for what’s to come.

So is Marquette. Another Archipelago club opened in Phoenix last summer, and he’s hopeful more will spring up as the world becomes safer. While membership fluctuated a bit during the pandemic, Marquette says the club has close to 200 members currently. Badick, who meets with potential members (joining doesn’t require a formal interview, but she says it’s helpful to chat with newbies about what they hope to get out of the club), says a desire for community comes up often as of late. “Where do people go to meet people right now? Where do people go to socialize?” she says. “People now recognize how important community is, and we’re able to provide that for them.”

Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil is a Denver-based journalist and 5280's former digital senior associate editor.