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The insider dish on Soho House: who made the cut and who didn’t at the city’s new, exclusive private club

Soho House, the exclusive London-based members’ club, has gambled $8 million on a Simcoe Street outpost that’s the surest place in Toronto to bump into celebs

Soho House

On Wednesday, July 25, a group of 30 people gathered for a secret meeting in the boardroom of a nondescript office building on Adelaide West. Among them were the heiress Trinity Jackman, indie record exec Jeff Remedios, TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey, interior designer Anwar Mukhayesh, Sony Music president Shane Carter and the society queen bee Ashleigh Dempster. Together they represented a cross-section of the city’s new establishment—a group that had been carefully corralled by the organizers of the London-based Soho House to help decide who deserved to be a founding member of the private club’s new Toronto outpost.

Tim Geary, Soho’s membership czar, opened the meeting by explaining why the club was coming to Toronto: the city is a creative hotbed, it’s vibrant and growing, it has come into its own. In the weeks leading up to this meeting, each person on the committee had been asked to nominate 20 or 25 people for potential membership. The roughly 700 people on the resulting list had then been invited to apply to Soho House Toronto, and now it was time for the committee to vet the applications. The process was as precisely choreographed as a production of Swan Lake.

The original Soho House London was opened in 1995 by the English restaurateur Nick Jones. It has since expanded to 10 locations, including New York and Berlin. Founding membership at the Toronto club is $1,200 a year (or $2,000 if you want access to international venues). The House, as it’s known, is targeted at globe-trotting “creative types”—young fashion designers, filmmakers, writers, artists and entrepreneurs, as well as famous musicians and movie stars. From the start, part of the allure has been bragging rights—the ability to claim membership to the same club as Kate Moss or Kristen Stewart, depending on your vintage.

In other cities, to ensure that the initial membership is diverse and not just the extension of a single clique, the selection committee was composed of a disparate and previously unacquainted group of artistic influencers and tastemakers. A sound theory, but a tall order in Toronto, given its incestuous social scene. Committee members exchanged air kisses, and the names of would-be members were greeted with multiple nods of recognition. Geary—who has overseen the openings of four Soho Houses in North America—couldn’t resist making a crack: “Does everyone in this city know everyone?”

Before Soho House, the majority of London’s private clubs remained the stuffy domain of white-haired, pinstriped gentlemen, the sorts of places where Darwin could exchange witticisms with Dickens over a dry sherry. In the early ’90s, Jones opened a casual French bistro called Cafe Boheme in the trendy Soho neighbourhood. When the space upstairs became available, he assumed the lease and opened the first Soho House. Jones decorated the 12,000-square-foot club in an haute hobo style carefully calibrated to make his members feel comfortable putting their feet on a table—or dancing on one. The banker boys of The City were unofficially unwelcome, but otherwise an anything-goes attitude prevailed. The club counted among its members Hugh Grant, Chrissy Hynde, the Gallagher brothers and David Bowie. In the spring of 1996, Jones took the party mobile to the Cannes Film Festival—long before “pop-up” was a ubiquitous marketing term, he chartered a yacht so that Soho House could host the hottest party on the Riviera. By that fall, the club had a waiting list. It has ever since.

Soho House was New London in all its pill-popping, electro-thumping, mid-’90s glory. British glamour girls like Kate Moss and Sienna Miller came for the privacy afforded by a members-only scene. There were no photographers or (worse) autograph seekers to witness the revelry. The House grew in notoriety when, in 2002, Jude Law’s two-year-old daughter swallowed a discarded ecstasy tablet while attending another child’s birthday party at the club. Following a four-month investigation, the Westminster Council ruled that, in order to keep his licence, Jones would have to enforce random bag searches, provide a kids-only washroom and remove flat surfaces in all toilet stalls. It was a setback, but there was no use crying over spilled pills. Following successful satellite outposts—one in the English countryside and one in the heart of Notting Hill—Soho House was taking a leap across the pond.

Before it had even opened, Soho House New York was earning the kind of PR you can’t buy. Thousands of aspiring it-people eagerly applied for membership. The secret selection committee included Nicole Kidman (who spent time at Soho House London with her then-husband, Tom Cruise), the director Stephen Daldry, the actors Alan Cumming and Griffin Dunne, and the fashion designer Zac Posen. The grand opening was predictably star-studded: Julianne Moore, Demi Moore, Rachel Weisz, Debbie Harry and the Coen brothers attended. In its first year, the new venture received the era’s ultimate pop-cultural plug—a Sex and the City plot line (Samantha is furious to find herself on the waiting list).

Still, there were growing pains: Soho management loosened its no-suits stance—this was New York, home of Wall Street, after all, where every Carrie Bradshaw had her eye on a Mr. Big. It wasn’t long before the club was known as a place where bankers and hedge fund managers spent happy hour. Jones, who usually dresses like a cool dad heading up to the cottage, has called the failure to maintain Soho’s original ethos the biggest mistake he ever made. Starting in 2009, a thousand banker types (almost a quarter of the club’s members) were enraged to find that their memberships would not be renewed. Those allowed to stay were asked to leave the corporate wardrobe at the office—the irony of a dress code at a supposed hub of creativity was lost on Soho’s brass.

  • Paul

    Imagine the result of a targeted drone strike on the right evening?

  • PKL

    I read this article and kept having to swallow my own vomit.

  • FAT CHANCE

    Groucho comes to mind.”I WOULD NEVER BE A MEMBER OF A CLUB THAT WOULD HAVE SOMEBODY LIKE ME AS A MEMBER”

  • Mike Lowry

    I have a hard time seeing why I’d pay 1k/year to go watch Ainsley Kerr get drunk when for $100 I can just go to Earls and wheel some chick who took the GO Train in for a big night on the town.

  • Honey Boo Boo

    Bahahahahahahaha!!!! Last comment just made my day!!!

  • za

    haha @Mike Lowry. Awesome!

  • HAHA

    elitism is for insecure LOSERS

    toronto life is PATHETIC !

  • Buzz

    This is great for the suits … it means that these struggling artists wont bother us at momofuku.

    The soho hype will dissipate when all the skirts figure out that they have to buy their own drinks, there – they’ll parade right back to bymark and ki …

    See ya there, ladies!

  • moi

    I am opening my own private club. except NO ‘hair club for men’ allowed!

  • JayBee

    Laughable atticle – if it wasn’t quite so vomit-inducing. After reading it I was ready to pack my backs and head out of this (insert expletive) ridiculous (putting it kindly) town. As a native Torontonian (born and raised) I am disappointed that this city is still a wannabe (wannabe NYC, wannabe London-based elite clubber) when we can just BE an indie, multi-cultural, multi-cultured, exciting big-small city. The Comments have encouraged me to stay. I am not alone!

  • Obamanique

    I’ve always thought Cameron Bailey was an insufferable twat. That fact that he’s on the selection committee just proves it.

  • SnootyPatooty

    This article reads like it was written by someone recently transported to Toronto from their previous home in high-society 19th century Paris.

    Putting “the” before a title implies uniqueness and global importance. It should be reserved for things like “the ambassador,” “the Nobel prize winner” and “the renowned nuclear physicist”; It should never precede “director,” “actor” or “fashion designer”.

    Art collectors are not “make-it-happen people.” Art collectors are people who passively collect things.

    “The next-gen cool crowd” doesn’t hang out on Queen West and King West; They hang out on Ossington and in Parkdale, and you’ll find some in Leslieville, too; and they certainly don’t have conversations about burrata, unless they’re somehow stuck in 2009.

  • Ryan Connors

    All these comments sound like they are from people who didn’t get accepted into Soho House…

  • jessica

    The whole thing sounds so high school – and in the true words of a high schooler, “so uncool”. Anyone who has to pay like this for friends is pathetic (and no, I’m not disgruntled because I didn’t get “accepted”)….I suppose this is the next stage in life for frat boys and sorority girls who had to pay for friends during their university days. Props to the ones who were invited but declined.

    Besides all that, I looked online at the building and it looks like a dusty old mansion. At least the Soho Club on SATC had an outdoor pool….

    What say all the commenters here(except for Connors) form an “Occupy Soho Club” movement and stage a tent city outside its hallowed halls? I’ll bring the boxed wine and Twinkies.

  • Riiiiiight

    As one bar owner told me many years ago, “make them feel important and I’ll make a fortune.”

  • Mike

    I went as a guest and thought the space was terrific. It is surprising how few bars/lounges there are in toronto where you can have a drink and a chat and not be surrounded by douchebags and cougars.

  • Swifty Lazar

    The space is great and the food is very good as well. I wish them well. Soho is a nice addition to the Toronto scene – if you like kind of thing.

    Though it is important to note that Toronto is not NYC, LA, London or even Berlin where you can have a significant “cool” membership with deep pockets to keep business good enough to exclude the suits/douchebags with their fat expense accounts.
    Not sure if that approach works so well here…

  • h8tnh8trs

    Who? …Where? Sorry for not clueing in, I live in the Real World. Take the lot of them whoever attends this garbage fest and send them front line aiding Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders in Uganda. I am pretty sure IQ for attendance is -100. I am waiting for a club that only lets in accomplished young professionals who actually contribute something to this GodForsaken world. Then again that will never happen…

  • Robin Cosper

    This is stupid. Where and when do we live?!?! “exclusive” clubs and private memberships. Get a life. Anyone who is into this contrived pretentious stuff is seriously in need of a hobby…and a life of some actual meaning. Who cares about this stuff anyways. It’s not the 90′s anymore. Toronto Life please start reporting with some..um…substance. This kind of fluff article is very very very empty and boring and outdated. Not to mention, inaccurate 90% of the time. You need to start writing about Toronto like for its real characteristics and charm. Not trying to knock off of some other big cities and trying to make Toronto sound like them. Then maybe I’ll get my subscription back.

    p.s. I wrote this comment before I read the other comments. Glad I’m not out to lunch with what I feel about this article. My beef is mainly with the article not with the subjects in the article. Those are real people trying to run a business. Nothing wrong with that. But this article and the tone of it and its ignorance is just god awful.

    “This article reads like it was written by someone recently transported to Toronto from their previous home in high-society 19th century Paris.” <—– This.

    Worst part of the story: any member of the club who read this article would feel so grossed out by it and they would quit the club.

  • Robin Cosper

    Stuck in 2009 indeed.

  • Robin Cosper

    I have subscribed to Toronto Life in the past. But the way they try to portray Toronto is so off the mark and inaccurate that is very disappointing. It doesn’t seem to follow or have a clue about what’s really happening in the city and the articles definitely feels recycled from decades ago, most of the time. SATC ended in 2004!!! That’s almost a decade ago hahaha. These writers need to get into town more often and find out what’s happening and what’s ‘cool’ in 2013!!!

  • Kelly Curtis

    They do not seem to check very well if people are really artists. Here in London I have heard two bankers already bragging how they pretended to be artists by setting up fake companies to get in. Is it really somewhere for creative people to meet?

  • MyAkrasia

    If you’re looking to get into Soho, drop me a line at myakrasia@gmail.com

 

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