Principal Hells: The Rough Guide to Soho House
In early 2003, a Brit named Nick Jones stumbled upon the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District, an area still just dirty enough to give the impression of "authenticity." It was here that he decided to create an outpost of his private London club, Soho House. In its beginnings, the members-only venue was actually a desirable place to be. From a May, 2003 piece in the Guardian's travel section focusing on the Meatpacking District, which is described as the place where — and it all seems quaint now — "grit meets glamour":
What the bosses at Soho House hope is that they won't squeeze out the very character they sought in this part of town.
It was roughly two seconds later that the Meatpacking District began its quick morph into a playground for the faux-rich and skanky. Things officially died on August 24, 2003 — the day the club made its inevitable appearance on Sex and the City, the now-defunct HBO series that we've to blame for a decent part of this mess, having sold midwestern girls everywhere on the fantasy of a swan's lifestyle on a journalist's salary. And yet Soho House quietly remains in a quasi-exclusive pose, unjustifiably and inexplicably. What follows is a rough guide to understanding a building filled with the ghosts of 2003.
First, the basics:
To gain entry, you've got to be recommended by two other members and fork over annual fees of $1400 (plus the ubiquitous $200 registration fee). Entrance is difficult but not impossible; the level of exclusivity is in a different orbit than that of Bungalow 8 - more businesslike, yet with a dash of cocaine and alcoholism — which might explain why the joint is overrun with skeezy banker types and not the chic celebs and media darlings who its owner might've preferred.
Founding members include debatable celebrities like Ethan Hawke and Alan Cumming, plus your usual famous-for-NYC types like Nicole Aragi and Lucy Sykes. There are still some boldfacers who pop in here and there: Jude and Sienna, Jack Nicholson, Vince Vaughn, and Adam Sandler. But nowadays, you're more likely to see anonymous 30-somethings who like eurotrash or imitation eurotrash, whose vague amount of disposable income falls above the club's membership fees but below a decent summer rental. These people include your spastic real estate broker or your douchebag neighbor whose Pete Tong Pure Pacha CD is on permanent repeat. Women tend to resemble cheap knockoffs of models, but they are few and fleeting — the club is said to be aggressively pursuing new female members with media backgrounds, though management is apparently unaware that only a select few female media-types could actually afford membership. And then there's the guy who wanders around wearing Hawaiian print shirts, refers to himself as "the mayor," and will steal your chaise the second you stand up.
Arguably, the rooftop pool is the House's main allure, though it's a fraction of the size it would seem. Roughly larger than a luxury bathtub, it's a family-friendly hell during the morning hours and, come afternoon, resembles a party at the MTV Beach House. Inside, the restaurant and bar prides itself on overpriced, mediocre food*, served by staffers who alternate between surly and sycophantic (and who, according to rumor, just might steal your credit card). The Drawing Room is where most members go to be jostled about and balance themselves on the edges of crowded leather couches, and the Games Room is where one might smoke and play pool in an uncomfortably small space. Private rooms are reserved for special events, such as the fight between Ian Spiegelman and Doug Dechert at Toby Young's book party.
Nowadays, the door policy remains "strict," but having your wasted friend upstairs call down to the front desk and drop a member's name should be all it takes to get in. Granted, this requires having someone who's already inside the club, but rest assured, you want it that way. The only thing that makes Soho House even mildly tolerable is the presence of your friends — though, if they're actually hanging out at the club, you might want to reconsider the friendship, as they are obvious social climbers aspiring to a lifestyle marked by indiscernable accents, artfully mussed hair and striped shirts with the top two buttons calculatedly unbuttoned.
*Veteran readers might recall that Gawker's obsession with the venue's crappy fruit cocktail cost Gawker alum Choire Sicha his club membership — to which we say, how the fuck were you affording that, Bloggy McSugartits?
Next: Buddakan, Del Posto, Craftsteak.
Earlier: Principal Hells: Florent, Hogs & Heifers, Pastis, Meatpacking District: The Video Overture