Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Taking the Party Global after a Mild Hangover ; Social Club Soho House Expands despite Mixed Success outside London

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Taking the Party Global after a Mild Hangover ; Social Club Soho House Expands despite Mixed Success outside London

Article excerpt

The Soho House brand is cautious, given its mixed success with clubs outside of London, as it prepares to introduce five more outposts around the world.

When the London-based members-only social club Soho House opened a branch in New York's meatpacking district almost a decade ago, it seemed to confer a sense of exclusivity and festivity to a neighborhood that was radically reinventing itself. Raucous parties were held at the rooftop pool, where an invitation to lunch made one feel puffed out with self-importance; Harvey Weinstein showed films privately in the screening room; attractive women tottered toward the entrance in Jimmy Choo shoes.

But over the years, the club has struggled to settle into its identity in a night-life scene that has become more laid-back and rough-hewn, with entries like the Ace Hotel in midtown Manhattan and Roberta's over the bridge in Brooklyn stealing much of the buzz.

When Soho House became inundated with bankers and other social undesirables, a sign was put in the lobby showing a red line through the image of a suit. Some memberships were not renewed in 2010 as management attempted to purge the club's image as a happy-hour hot spot for hedge-fund managers on their way home to New Jersey. (A visit at 5 p.m. on the Friday of this past Memorial Day weekend found men in sweat pants joking with the lobby staff, and one stocky woman exiting carrying a Lord & Taylor bag.) And the death of the designer Sylvie Cachay there later in 2010 seemed an especially dark coda; it resulted in more news coverage than the club had received in years.

Soho House's chief executive, Nick Jones, who founded the club in 1995, now oversees 10 Soho Houses (six in Britain, three in the United States and one in Berlin), all of which adhere to a strict, Royal-Geographical-Society-meets-Dwell-Magazine design aesthetic. (One echoed in his finely tailored but untucked shirts and designer jeans.)

He believes the membership overhaul, which has been accompanied by an overall refurbishment of the club, has been effective. "We've made great strides in New York," he said in a recent phone interview. "To me, it's a much nicer club than it was two years ago, even a year ago." Still, he called the experience "our biggest mistake" and said, "I'll never let it happen again."

His caution is understandable as his company, adding to a portfolio that includes restaurants and more successful clubs in West Hollywood, California, and Miami, prepares to introduce five more outposts around the world: in Toronto, Chicago, Mumbai, Istanbul and Barcelona. By 2014, Mr. Jones said, jet-setting members will be able to sip Tanqueray and tonics overlooking the Arabian Sea. The expansion is being bankrolled by Ron Burkle, the supermarket billionaire and former close friend of Bill Clinton, who sank $383 million into the company in January to become a majority stakeholder.

In addition to his $3.2 billion fortune, Mr. Burkle, 59, is known as someone who enjoys a lively scene. The godfather of Sean Combs's twins, he reportedly once shared a crash pad with Leonardo DiCaprio and last year held an after-party for Kanye West and Jay-Z following their concert in Los Angeles.

But as for his impact on Soho House now that he is an owner, not just a member, Mr. Burkle (who has fallen out with Mr. Clinton over business, he told Bloomberg BusinessWeek) wrote in an e-mail: "I'm not short on opinions, but my style is to back the C.E.O. This is Nick's vision and his company."

On the phone, Mr. Jones laid out some of his vision, giving a virtual tour of the Toronto club, which opens in September.

"There's a club bar and drawing room on the ground floor, and we're putting reclaimed wood paneling on the walls," he said. "We have found an old 19th-century bar in Pennsylvania. There's white and black tile as you walk into the reception area, the ceiling is a painted coving ceiling. We found an old fireplace."

The Proustian precision with which Mr. …

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