Full-disclosure, the former Soho House member is me, and the T I have to spill will be sprinkled throughout…
Airmail‘s writer Nimrod Kamer (I’m not making that up, but maybe they did…?) is reporting that the swank private, members only SoHo House is preparing to go public. In the beginning of last month the company submitted a confidential filing for an I.P.O. in New York that values the company at more than $3 billion.
Soho House has hired J. P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley to help plan for an I.P.O. following a first, pulled attempt in 2018 and Goldman Sachs, just loaned them $770 million ahead of the I.P.O.
In November, Nick Jones, the company’s founder (who has since sold his interest and I believe is paid as a figurehead consultant) said that the clubs have a waiting list of about 50,000 people. The next few months will see the opening of four new locations, in Tel Aviv, Rome, Paris, and Austin.
Jones opened the first Soho House space, in London’s West End, in ’95. The idea was to create a
“home for creative people to come together.”
It marketed itself as highly selective and catering to an artsy crowd. You have to be recommended by two members to get in and it was hard to get in. If you didn’t know somebody.
In the early 2000s, as I was walking through the then nearly deserted Meatpacking District, my British friend Nick Robinson pointed to a building and said that his friend, Nick (Jones), was opening a private club there. I looked at it and the run-down warehouse area it was in and thought,
“Good luck with that.”
Little did I or anyone know what a big success it would become. Fast-forward a few years and Nick’s wife, Lisa Nederlander (of the theater Nederlanders) was my real estate agent for an apartment I was buying in the Meatpacking District. The tiny apt. was well-located (The Whitney & the Highline followed a few years later just one block away) and SoHo House was around the corner. Nick & Lisa took me for dinners there a few times (husband and wives could not share a membership, each had their own or had to be the other’s guest) I thought, my place is so small, I could entertain here. So, I asked if they would sponsor me as a member.
At the time I was the Art Director of Us Weekly and the club frowned upon mentions of who was at the club (no photos, no cell phone calls) so I was afraid they’d think I was a spy, so I lied and just put “artist” (which I am full-time now) and submitted my application, gave them my AmEx #. And waited…
The way I found out I was accepted a member was the charge just appeared one month on my AmEx statement. No letter. I was charged as an “Local House” member, meaning just your local club, but my membership card read “Every House” which allowed you access to any club worldwide. I guessed my sponsorship by two founding members got me that deal. Mine was $1100 a year (less than most gym memberships) normally $2000 for Every House. I never said a word about it or asked why.
At one point, maybe 2010, a letter went out to members saying the club had 40,000 members. I did the math, and not including the money the restaurants, spas, hotel guests etc, they were CRUSHING it.
In 2012, Ronald Burkle, the American billionaire investor bought a 60% stake in the club, in a deal that then valued the company at an estimated $350 million. Richard Caring, who also owns Annabel’s nightclub and a string of high-end restaurants in London, is now Soho House’s second-biggest investor.
Since then the club has expanded to 110,000 members across 27 locations in 10 countries (pre-pandemic). Now a U.S. Soho House membership costs $2,100 a year for Local House, $3,200 for Every House. (That’s around quarter of a billion a year gross, at its current level…)
When the pandemic hit, in the spring of 2020, Soho House was rapidly expanding and likely couldn’t afford to lose members, so it continued charging members fees, even though its spaces were completely shut down. Granted, the majority of Soho House members have the type of job (and salary) that was able to go on unchanged when the world locked down, but still, members were pissed.
In an April e-mail, Jones said membership fees could be used as store credit, which did little to assuage a group who would have preferred to put that money toward jet-setting to far-flung coronavirus-free destinations now that city life was dead.
I let my membership go in 2017 I when I sold my Meatpacking District apartment and moved upstate full-time. In the 14 or so years I was a member, I DID take advantage of the various clubs amenities, especially my local one. Free first run movies in the plush screening room, with huge lounge chairs, lap blankets, candy and drinks you nab from the bar. The Cowshed spa was small but I had a great facialist Elena, who I saw monthly. I used the free rooftop yoga class at 8 AM as an excuse to put my towel down and reserve a coveted poolside lounge, which by 10:30 could not be had for love or money. Then I’d order breakfast (a flat white with avo toast!) read a free copy of The Times, swim, and get some work done on my laptop. All that felt like a real luxury. Access to a rooftop pool in NYC is somewhat like having a helicopter. SUPER rare.
I had celebrity sightings here and there. I swam in the teeny-tiny pool and chatted with Kate Winslet and was in the tiny elevator with Brad Pitt and Damien Hirst (not at the same time) Once, when my brother came to visit we were having drinks in the lounge next to one curtained private dining room area. My brother said,
“Oh, look. That’s Monica Lewinsky…”
To which I replied,
“Tad, it’s New York, every other girl looks like Monica Lewinsky.”
I turned around to see. It WAS Monica Lewinsky.
As an artist, I used SoHo Beach House every year for Art Basel Miami and when I traveled to LA, London or Berlin (all which had great locations) there was SoHo House to meet friends for dinner or drinks. Staying in their hotel rooms (something even non-members could do) even with the 25% off members received, was VERY expensive and I only did it a few times. So, I’d often book a cheap hotel nearby and then have drinks, eat meals and hang out poolside at the club all day. Felt kinda swanky.
But Soho House’s original members began to see changes. At one point there were complaints at the Meatpacking location (NYC now has 3) that there were too many bros in suits and the “business casual” dress code was enforced and LOTS of Wall Street guys saw their memberships cancelled. They also offered a discounted “Under 27” membership which brought in lots of young, loud wannabes that were annoying, but the old-timers knew enough NOT to go on weekend night.
Now open again, the clubs seem to have have lost their luster for many members. Jean-François Goyette, a former member of Soho House Hong Kong says,
“Soho House is late capitalism pretending to be edgy and chic but ending up like a WeWork with mescal.
There are two types of members: failed influencers who need a cheap gym/workspace, and finance bros who hawk crypto. The Hong Kong house is an expat cesspool disconnected from the local context. It has nothing to do with Hong Kong culture and seems more like an embassy of American-British Hypebeast types and Sex and the City wannabes. I’ve never heard Cantonese spoken there.”
Me either, but I didn’t even know they had one in Hong Kong.
With an I.P.O. in the works, Soho House seems like it’s about to get a lot less exclusive. Maybe everyone on that 50,000-person wait-list are about to see a new charge on their Platinum AmEx cards.
So, today long-time members might be better off canceling their memberships (if they haven’t already) and buying the stock with the extra dough saved. I just might. Maybe I could recoup some of that $$ I spent over the years.
Plus, Barcelona and the soon to come; Tel Aviv, Rome, Paris & Austin…
(Photos, SoHo House, Trey Speegle; via Airmail)