London-style lounging has landed in Los Angeles. Soho House, the members-only club launched in England 15 years ago, now has its second American outpost up and running on the top floor of an otherwise nondescript office building on the west end of the Sunset Strip. The debut comes not a moment too soon for local media professionals and British expats looking for a way to network effectively and enjoy a hot new night life option.
"It's London ambiance but with a cool California kick," said Anna Griffin, English-born editor in chief of Coco Eco magazine, between drags of a cigarette on a recent Saturday night. She stood on Soho House's busy balcony and looked out toward Century City. "Where else can you get this kind of L.A.-fabulous view?"
London ambience, but driving what kind of experience? Soho House certainly can feel like a bar, with a drink staff done up in white collars, black vests and green ties (and managed by a mixologist formerly at the Edison downtown). But it's not explicitly a drinking destination. Nor is it a nightclub. There is no nightly DJ or, as there is at the New York City location, a rooftop pool.
Instead, the 17,000-square-foot multi-room meeting place atop Luckman Plaza boasts a small library, a restaurant and mixed-media pieces from artists such as Damien Hirst, and it hosts members (and their guests) of all ages all day long for everything from breakfast meetings to leisurely dinners.
Membership clubs have been a fixture in England since the days of White's, a club where 18th century upper-class men socialized over drinks and parlor games. Modern London is rife with a different kind of more relaxed social members club that caters to a hipper audience similar to Soho House.
With Soho House membership set at the relatively low price of $1,800 annually (as compared with other L.A. establishments, such as the City Club or Jonathan Club, some of which can run as much as $30,000), the owners claim to be awash in applications. But joining isn't as simple as writing a check: A 20-person committee decides who makes the cut. Only about 700 "founding members" have so far been invited to the local chapter.
All of which raises a few questions about what Soho House is supposed to be.
"Soho House is about serious food and serious service … but when people are having a good time, it can become an enormously fun place as well," said the club's founder, Nick Jones, sitting in the venue's moonlit Garden Room (featuring a lily pond, a retractable roof and olive trees) earlier this month.
From the backlit crackled glass bar top with hand-gilded silver leaf in the main lounge to a dimly lighted hallway with photographs pinned to its corked walls leading to the Garden Room, Soho House WeHo exudes an understated grace befitting the burgeoning brand, which is in expansion mode after a recent near-$200-million infusion from British multimillionaire Richard Caring (now the majority owner of Soho House) and HBOS/Lloyds Banking Group.
"There's always a balance between exclusivity and the financial realities of maintaining a large establishment," said Jason Pomeranc, co-owner of the Thompson Hotel Group. The founding member in Los Angeles and longtime Soho House New York member sat at a table on a recent evening with a large group that included actress Anne Hathaway. "It's too early to gauge Soho House [in L.A.], but so far I view it as a very successful endeavor."
There are now eight Soho House locations worldwide, and Jones is developing chapters in Miami and Berlin, but it's Los Angeles where he chooses to live part time with his family.
"We always wanted to be in L.A.," said Jones, who also co-owns West Hollywood's popular Cecconi's restaurant. "It's the home of the film business, and Soho House was always set up as sort of a club for filmmakers." Proof comes in the form of a 34-seat screening lounge opening this summer at Soho House WeHo.
The brand, then, is a hybrid, a members club with an emphasis on mixing entertainment business and pleasure — seemingly a tailor-made fit for Los Angeles.
Jones and the membership committee claim to have gone to great lengths to ensure that Soho WeHo doesn't become a one-note celebrity clubhouse. To that end, the curated crowd at Soho House WeHo (so far, anyway) skews slightly older, resembling Cecconi's arty expense-account lunch crowd over the models-and-bottles set that floods area clubs post-midnight. Lots of A-list actors are in evidence, but a majority of members come from media, business and art backgrounds.
"We're after like-minded good people to be part of this club," quipped Jones.
So laptop-totting screenwriters sprawl out and sip tea during the day, but patrons enjoy more Lucullan evenings, moving from dinner to cocktails in the adjacent Sitting Room.
"I hope that Los Angeles retains the club-like atmosphere where everyone shares a connection," says member Luke G-Jones, an English film producer who now resides in Venice and who has been a Soho House member since the late ‘90s. "In London, it's very casual. It's going to be harder for them to maintain that sort of intimate feel [here]."
Jones has faith that his membership committee is doing its job of getting the right mix of people into 9200 Sunset Blvd. He believes L.A.'s 20-something tabloid fodder, the ones most typically out at clubs on Friday night, won't spoil Soho House in WeHo the way brash young bankers in Manhattan caused some (including Melissa Whitworth, a New York-based writer for London's Daily Telegraph) to colloquially refer to the meatpacking district club as "so-so house."
"People who want that sort of thing will not come here, because we do not offer any opportunity for [paparazzi] to shoot here," said Jones. "This is about being away from all that in a discreet fashion."
"There is a certain segment that wants a private establishment like Soho House here," adds Pomeranc, who knows a thing or two about semi-exclusive spaces as the brains behind Teddy's at the Roosevelt hotel and Manhattan's guests-only rooftop haunt A60. "Privacy, comfort and service play particularly well in Los Angeles, where people are more selective about how often they go out. Capturing that audience is a bit more difficult [here] than it is in New York."
Soho House West Hollywood
Where: 9200 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
When: 8 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays
Price: Memberships from $1,800 annually (or $900 annually for younger than 27)
Info: (310) 432-9200; http://www.sohohousewh.com