Travel News

Inside Soho House, the elusive chain of members-only venues

It may be aloof and oh-so cool but the impact of the creative-industry members’ club model is undeniable.
Soho House pool

In September 1998, Nick Jones – founder of the Soho House hospitality group – met Kirsty Young, radio presenter and sweetheart of the British media establishment. A year later, the pair were married in the very same place they’d met a year prior: a Grade II listed Georgian manor house turned hotel and private members’ club in the English countryside.

Babington House is just one of Jones’s shamelessly exclusive properties, and the story of his and Young’s meet cute is a poetic (and entirely unsurprising) example of the Soho House group’s aspirational anatomy. Since its inception in 1995, the collection of hotels and private members’ clubs has served as a global playground for the creative elite – a series of masterfully designed, boldly beautiful spaces, and a membership model that acts as certification of social relevance. Of course, such an exclusive model is not without its foibles, but I am opting to leave discussion of self-perpetuating social inequality and problematic privilege to less easily enchanted commentators. What I would like to offer instead is an unfettered ode to the existence of this glamorous, inaccessible universe.

Soho House itself might be an artefact of privilege, but its story is one of ambition and creativity. Jones began his career in hospitality straight out of school, working every role from washing dishes to serving cocktails at Brown’s: a five-star hotel in London’s Mayfair. At just 22 he established his own restaurant group Over the Top, and 22 years after opening the first outpost of Soho House, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to the hospitality industry.

For those of us who have spent the past two pandemic-ridden years locked within Australia’s walls, Soho House represents an interconnected world filled with possibility. It’s the smart lick of skis through powder on a perfect bluebird day. It’s locked eyes across a crowded bar – a smile that lasts a second too long. It’s the ephemeral excitement of a Friday night when – if only for a fleeting moment – anything is possible. Or perhaps it’s not. And perhaps it’s all a beautiful façade. And perhaps that’s the magic of it.

What can’t be denied is the allure of this carefully constructed creative community – the idea that in handsome designer spaces across cities and continents, the world’s indie-elite are meeting and mixing and indulging in the intoxicating fizz of shared identity. The sexy something that hotel guests lust after and hoteliers seek to emanate isn’t tangible. It’s not the rooftop pools or low-lit Martini bars, it’s the promise of belonging.

This year alone the brand has launched in the Grenadines, Brighton Beach, a second location in West Hollywood and they have slated openings in Bangkok, Stockholm and a second Miami location. The influence of Jones’s empire is evident not just through the growth of the brand itself, which comprises more than 30 properties globally but from the way it’s shaped the hotel landscape the world over. In London alone, nods to the “creative members’ club” model can be seen at boutique hotels including The Hoxton, The Zetter, Chiltern Firehouse and Chateau Denmark, to name a few.

For the creative and the curious” reads the tagline of London’s newest boutique hotel and members club The Twenty Two. This statement tells us nothing about the hotel itself, and everything about the person we might hope to become by staying there. After the unwelcome realisation that the experiences we thought formed us can be taken away in an instant, the desire for a collective identity is more pronounced than ever. And the hotel industry – buoyed by Soho House’s success – is offering a collective identity that comes with certified creative excellence included.

In Sydney, whispers are circulating about a possible site in Surry Hills. Officially there is nothing to report at this point, but the rumours retain the essence of Soho House: an elusive invitation to the world’s most coveted party.

Related stories