Soho House is exclusive, but more than that, Soho House is cool. This may be all many people know about Soho House, and it’s almost certainly what Soho House wants you to know about Soho House.
Through its lounge spaces, spas, pools, screening rooms, hotels, and restaurants, Soho House caters to the young, city-dwelling creative class, providing them with beautiful spaces in which to be young and creative together. But the Soho House brand comprises more than its famously members-only clubs. Soho House owns restaurants all over the world (restaurants that anyone can go to), has a burgeoning e-commerce operation, and, over the past 20-plus years, has established its presence as a global hospitality brand.
A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1995, restaurateur Nick Jones opened the first Soho House in London when a space above his modest French restaurant Café Boheme became available. The door to the three-story house was too small for a restaurant, Jones told design magazine Dezeen last year, but just the right size to form the entryway to a private club.
The members-only Soho House was meant to stand apart from the stuffy clubs that were a hallmark of the London social scene. This club would cater to the creative types increasingly flocking to the city’s Soho neighborhood, especially young people working in film and media. “We wanted it to be creative and like-minded, and for people who were at ease with themselves,” Jones tells Eater. (This original Greek Street location is currently undergoing renovations, with plans to reopen in spring 2018.)
Soho House on Greek Street was followed by the Babington House in Somerset, a country version of the first Soho House, and eight years after Soho House’s debut, it arrived in New York. “I always dreamt about opening something in New York,” Jones says. “Eventually, I had the stupidity or the balls to go off and do it.”
The New York Soho House didn’t open in Soho, but in the Meatpacking District — a then-edgy neighborhood home to Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones, who crashed Soho House’s pool deck with a spurious membership in Season 6. The members-only social club concept caught on in New York, but not just among the young film and media industry players that defined the brand. Somehow, the "wrong crowd" managed to infiltrate New York’s Soho House — a crowd of corporate suits.
Even after requesting that members not wear suits and ties at the club, the New York Soho House “didn’t have the right feel anymore,” as Jones told the New York Post in 2010. Soho House culled the New York membership list in an effort to “get the club back to its creative roots,” effectively kicking out hundreds of corporate-leaning members, a move that was controversial, but effective in restoring the club to the appropriate level of cool, Jones said in the Post.
That same year, Los Angeles got its own Soho House in West Hollywood. This one, located in an office tower, quickly became the hangout for the creative set of Jones’s dreams, despite not having a pool, spa, or gym.
In a fifth-anniversary oral history of LA’s Soho House, the Hollywood Reporter called it “the most important club in Hollywood — a high-wattage magnet for A-listers and dealmakers.” Here, not just any industry member is given star treatment or even allowed into the club. The ones that do fit Soho House’s specific definition of cool — and adhere to the “no-assholes rule” — are granted access to the “fantasyland among the clouds,” as The Americans actor and former Soho House London membership committee member Matthew Rhys described it to the Hollywood Reporter.
In 2012, billionaire Ron Burkle bought a majority stake in the the Soho House Group and helped finance its international expansion. In recent years, Soho House has cemented its foothold in hospitality the world over, opening Soho Houses and public-facing restaurants in cities like Toronto, Barcelona, and Istanbul. Soho House now has 18 clubs, with more in the works, and an extensive restaurant portfolio, including London restaurants Dean Street Townhouse and Cafe Monico and international chains Cecconi’s and Dirty Burger.
Visiting a Soho House club is like taking a trip to your ubercool aunt’s place — if she charged you for her (reportedly excellent) chocolate chip cookies. To create the spaces that thousands of people clamor to work, eat, and sit in, Soho House designers prize timeless comfort over contemporary trends. “When we design a place it has to feel like it has atmosphere with no one in it,” Jones, who reportedly oversees every detail, told Dezeen.
Each club is a reflection of its city: The West Hollywood Soho House boasts spectacular LA views and creatively NSFW bathroom wallpaper; Soho House 76 Dean Street is located in one of the oldest townhouses in Westminster; and the Berlin house occupies a building that once served as the headquarters of the Hitler Youth. The design at each of these, and at the 15 other houses, favors vintage and bespoke items that are meant to feel locally sourced.
Aesthetics are so important to the Soho House DNA that, since 2012, Soho House has employed an in-house team of between 50 and 60 designers and architects at offices in New York, LA, and London to design the interiors, furniture and other elements that go into each new Soho House build. In 2016, Jones made it possible to shop these design elements with Soho Home, an e-commerce site. Now even nonmember plebes can buy the $700 pink leather footstools and $38 crystal Champagne coupes that provide the certain something that makes Soho House the perfect place for creative types to Network and Chill.
Soho House is notorious for its selective club membership policy. A membership committee, composed of club members, decides who is and isn’t granted access to each specific club. (So, it’s entirely subjective.) Kim Kardashian and the Real Housewives are in the same category as lawyers and hedge fund managers, as former membership director Tim Geary told the Hollywood Reporter — both lacking in the je ne sais quoi that deems one worthy of Soho House.
The club doesn’t view its focus on the right career and creativity as exclusionary. On the contrary, the way Soho House chooses its members apparently allows for “greater community.” The Soho House website explains: “Unlike other members’ clubs, which often focus on wealth and status, we aim to assemble communities of members that have something in common: namely, a creative soul.”
Jones says he’d like to think that the club is “inclusive.” He tells Eater, “We've been doing it for 22 years and as the world changes and as people's work changes, I think the bond to somewhere like [Soho House] increases all the time.”
To join the tribe of “like-minded individuals” that is Soho House, applicants must provide a recent headshot, nominations from two current Soho House members, a one-time application fee, and, of course, an accounting of their career. And although cultural capital takes precedence over monetary capital at Soho House, upon acceptance, members will pay.
In the U.S., annual memberships cost $2,100 to join a single club and $3,200 to have access to all of the Soho Houses. To keep the clubs young and, thus, hip, members under 27 get a 50 percent discount on the annual membership until they turn 30. Those who live in select Soho House-approved cities without an actual Soho House, like Aspen, Milan, and Tel Aviv, can purchase an every-club membership for $2,500. Some Soho Houses also grant children access to club facilities at a membership rate of $250 per child per year (which means that the ambiance at some Soho Houses will inevitably include the sounds of children).
To maintain just the right vibe, Soho House only accepts new members periodically, racking up waitlists that are reportedly tens of thousands of people long. Pierre Dourneau, director of North American operations for Soho House, describes it as “a very, very healthy waiting list,” and notes that Soho House prizes “quality over quantity” when it comes to its members. But fret not: Nonmembers can enter Soho House as guests of paying members (as long as they stay close to their designated member, according to official Soho House rules). Nonmembers are also eligible to book Soho House hotel rooms and can visit one of the brand’s many public-facing restaurants.
Given its creative leanings, Soho House clubs are a home away from home for bona fide celebrities, as well as actor-slash-model-slash-socialites and other creative-souled individuals who can afford the dues. There are no doubt many famous names on the list, but Soho House has a pretty strict no press policy and members are forbidden from identifying fellow members on social media. (They’re not even allowed to describe Soho House events on social media.) The Hollywood Reporter did, however, get several famous West Hollywood members to go on record with their Soho House adoration, including actress Amy Adams, Girls showrunner Jenni Konner, director Paul Haggis, and screenwriter Danny Strong.
THE SOHO HOUSE MURDER
The hotel at the New York Soho House was the site of a headline-making murder. In 2010, swimsuit designer Sylvie Cachay was found dead in a Soho House hotel bathroom. During the 2013 trial, stories of the “Soho House Killer”, Nicholas Brooks, Cachay’s boyfriend and son of an award-winning composer, briefly dominated headlines.
THE RESTAURANT EMPIRE
The Soho House brand is bigger than its clubs. In fact, the biggest revenue driver for Soho House isn’t membership fees, but food, according to Dourneau. The Soho House portfolio now includes 14 different restaurants, many with multiple locations in cities with a Soho House club. Like the clubs, these restaurants are deliberately branded in carefully chosen, often transportive spaces. The barriers to entry, though, are much lower, and in addition to being free to enter, most restaurants have relatively affordable menus.
Jones, who got his start as a restaurateur, describes restaurants as his “first love.” As the clubs have expanded, Soho House’s restaurants have provided an additional recruiting ground for Soho House & Co staff, as well as more places for both members and regular folk to experience the brand (and contribute to its cash flow). “It's great to keep sharp in the public arena, and it’s also fun and interesting,” Jones says. Beyond the cool factor Soho House demands, there’s no unifying thread through the many restaurants Soho House now owns. “I like to think that they have the same ‘yes’ culture, that they're not pretentious,” says Jones. “They are buzzy, they're fun. People have a good experience.”
Just about every kind of casual restaurant format has gotten the Soho House treatment. In London, Soho House has a standalone diner (Electric Diner), a French brasserie (High Road Brasserie), and an all-day restaurant with cold-pressed juice (Hubbard & Bell), among others. And then there are the restaurant chains serving pizza (Pizza East), burgers (Dirty Burger), and rotisserie chicken (Chicken Shop). Some of the Soho House restaurants, like French-Italian restaurant Cafe Monico and Venice-born Cecconi’s, were existing restaurants that Soho House took over, but others were expressly designed to feed the urban, creative class Soho House serves.
There’s no hard and fast rule for when and where a Soho House restaurant will open. “Sites come my way and our way, and we search around and work out whether it's the right location,” Jones explains. Although Soho House restaurants are concentrated in the U.K., like the clubs, they are decidedly international (the Allis, a lounge and bar named after industrialist and philanthropist Charles Allis, only has locations in Istanbul and Chicago, for example).
Some of the public-facing restaurants open because a Soho House club site has the right infrastructure for one. When Chicago got a Soho House in 2014 it came along with three restaurants open to nonmembers on the ground floor of the building: The Allis, Chicken Shop plus Fox Bar, and Pizza East. (Since then, a Fox Bar was added to the Chicken Shop, and Pizza East has shuttered.) The Ned, a Soho House hotel and members’ club, has nine restaurants on-site, seven of them open to the public. But, despite having a Soho House since 2003, New York just got its very first Soho House restaurant this summer when Cecconi’s opened in Dumbo.
Cecconi’s is the most geographically widespread Soho House restaurant brand, with Mayfair, Miami Beach, West Hollywood, Istanbul, Berlin, Barcelona, and London locations. “I’ve been dreaming of opening up a Cecconi’s in New York, and it’s always been about finding the right site — we wanted a site where people could sit outside, look at a lovely view,” Jones told WWD in June. “We weren’t actively looking [for a location], but when DUMBO came up, we really felt that was the perfect spot for Cecconi’s.”
It’s now the perfect setting for aspirational Instagrams, and at Soho House restaurants, unlike the clubs, photos are actually permitted.
After more than 20 years in business, the Soho House ethos is the same. “We'd like to give people nice things that they want: a nice bed, a nice plate of food, a nice drink, a nice massage,” Jones says. The members, however, have changed slightly. When Dourneau was a server at the original Soho House 20 years ago, there were more TV presenters, actors, and people who worked in film and theater, he says. These days, “the people who are coming out of colleges and coming out of schools are generally more creative and like-minded than they were 20 years ago,” according to Jones. “Even though it might not be about film, I think that like-minded creativeness covers all sorts of individuals now.” What exactly that means for membership is up to each House membership committee.
To keep up with the greater numbers of “like-minded” people out there, Soho House is expanding all over the world at a rate of three new clubs per year. Soho House in Downtown LA breaks ground this summer, and a Soho House in Mumbai will open in November. These will be followed by Dumbo House in New York and Soho Houses in Hong Kong and Austin. Further down the line, Lisbon, Paris, and Tokyo will all get Soho Houses.
Jones is still actively involved in choosing each new location, and according to Dourneau, it all starts with the right property. “We always start something from the building; the building always dictates, and the building should always have some kind of ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “Whether it's the bones itself or the view or what you can add to it with an extra rooftop or extra basement, or whether it's the history.”
More clubs will likely come with more restaurants. Although there is no set expansion plan in place, Soho House is focused on growing the Cecconi’s brand, according to Dourneau. And because Jones loves food (and likely also because the food and alcohol sold at restaurants and in clubs generate revenue), Soho House is also focusing on improving the dining options for members. They have an in-house training program for restaurant staff called Cookhouse and a bar recruitment and training program, House Tonic.
To fuel its expansion tear, Soho House sold a 50 percent stake in its restaurants Pizza East, Dirty Burger, and Chicken Shop and took out a £40 million loan (approximately $51.4 million USD). Their people — those with the creative souls — will be there to refill those coffers when they arrive in each new hand-picked, members-mostly location.
Monica Burton is an assistant editor at Eater.
Editor: Hillary Dixler
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