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13 February 2024

The Soho House bubble is over

250,000 private members may soon be kicked out of the exclusive club.

By Kara Kennedy

The only thing worse than people who love private members’ clubs are the people that poke fun at them.

They make themselves easy victims, I’ll admit. Particularly the McDonalds of private member clubs, Soho House. But that’s why whenever you’re faced with a Hattie rambling on about the “creative, bohemian vibe” the £3,000 a year club has, or how “it’s like so exclusive and discreet”, you grit your teeth and be the bigger person. You certainly don’t say something like, “discretion doesn’t matter Hattie, because nobody knows who you are and hardly anyone knew who your grandmother was, either. And it can’t be that discreet because you’ve been going on about it for half an hour.” That would be childish. 

Us non-members, us non-creative, non-exclusive types might catch a break soon after a report came out last week that claimed that the chain was destined for the same fate as the bankrupt (in America at least) WeWork. Down the swanny. According to GlassHouse Research, Soho House had a “broken business model” with “questionable accounting”, and had expansion “into less affluent cities for revenue growth, the persistent lack of profitability, overcrowding, a perceived decline in service quality” to blame. Soho House hit back, claiming this was all “false and misleading”, but it appears it was too late, as for the first time since its opening, the “exclusive” club’s membership numbers were poked fun of and posted all over the internet. At 250,000 members, the hive mind of the internet has a point. It’s hardly cosy.

But like I said, we shouldn’t hate them all. Private members’ clubs serve the same purpose as a shiny car on finance or the unread copy of War and Peace on a bookshelf. It’s the same reason you’d buy a copy of the Atlantic to put on your coffee table when you don’t read the Atlantic and you’d much prefer to spend your afternoons gawking at the pages of OK! magazine. It makes you feel better about yourself and is – probably – cheaper and easier than therapy. If you’re in, look at the bright side. It’s probably a good place for a first date, and their signature drink, the Picante, isn’t bad. Some of the clubs even have a pool. If you’re out, it’s a great way to know who you should and shouldn’t go on a first date with. 

It’s all about trial and error with these clubs. My first time at a Soho House was a few years ago when I had just arrived in London with big dreams and a small bank account. Somebody asked me to accompany them and I jumped at the chance. Members only? Alright, Kate Moss. Sign me up. After waiting in the lobby for 20 minutes while the lady at the counter looked us up and down and asked repeatedly about the membership details, I walked upstairs to what resembled my old workplace – a Premier Inn hotel bar. A few years later I tried again, but to my dismay, the ones in New York only got worse. The clientele ranges from insufferable Instagram models, Z-list ‘slebs and horny old men salivating in the corner.

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But, one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. Every now and then I get a text from one of my girlfriends talking about how they’re thinking of pissing away three grand on a membership. None of these young, intelligent women think that a golden ticket to Soho House will help their social status or cool factor. But they are usually fed up with something and think the answer is behind the door of 40 Greek Street. “What if I pack it all in and become an influencer, Soho House is the place to start, right?” My replies are usually along the lines of “Nobody wants to see the morning routine of a depressed millennial.” Or, sometimes, they’re looking for a free dinner with an expensive date. “Sometimes a girl just wants a temporary romance with a man whose family hasn’t worked in six generations.” The conversations usually end with me saying, “It’s a lot of money. If you still want to in a month then do it.” They never do.

As for London members clubs, if you’re looking for the feeling of a shiny new car without a shiny new car, there are plenty of others to choose from that feel a bit more in vogue. There’s the Groucho, the private members’ club in Dean Street for the mee-jah types, or, as a friend calls it, the only place in London where you can quickly and reliably get cocaine. Then there’s the Garrick Club, only for members that are, sorry, have, a dick. Then there’s 5 Hertford Street, frequented by the likes of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. On second thoughts, just buy a Mercedes.

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