We’re all too familiar with Groucho Marx’s quote: “Please accept my resignation,” he wrote to the Friars Club in Beverly Hills. “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” But Groucho might not have been so blithe with the owners of Soho House in West Hollywood. Money, fame — even looks — are not the prime criteria for becoming a member of the British-originated, private members’ club.
The membership model — focusing on “creatives,” according to founder Nick Jones — was the desired demographic of the New York outpost, and now, L.A. What that word means is open to the management’s interpretation. Clearly, Ryan Kavanaugh, Ben Silverman, Patrick Whitesell and Aaron Sorkin qualify. Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Leonardo DiCaprio and Sylvester Stallone turn up often. Oprah Winfrey, not as often. But fame alone is not the ticket. “They don’t want celebrities who don’t wear their knickers,” one regular says. “They want talented, proper stars. They don’t want people who will make the club a tabloid sensation.”
Whichever execs or celebs do acquire membership, all of them have to pay ($1,800 a year per club, $2,400 to go to all nine worldwide). But Hollywood is scattered with many other rich, famous and gorgeous people who feel they are “permanently on the waiting list.” What an irony that the ultimate Hollywood hot spot doesn’t trade on the currency of the very town it thrives in. Unlike in New York, with its plethora of private clubs, L.A.’s Soho House is the only game around, only increasing its desirability to those looking in.
“Egos are bruised around town,” the regular says. “Some agents, managers, publicists and celebrities are getting in, some aren’t. There is serious competitiveness within agencies too, why someone down the hall is in and you aren’t. There’s begging, pleading, celebrities calling on people’s behalf — and it’s just not working.”
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Eight months in, local members are figuring out that what’s really important is when you go — there are different hours for schmoozing, working and dining … and hooking up. The scene morphs dramatically from the 8 a.m. opening to the close past midnight.
During daytime hours, it’s a luxurious office hub for actors and producers — Starbucks without vanilla lattes. At breakfast or lunch, you can stumble upon Jon Hamm reading scripts, Joaquin Phoenix having meetings or Sarah Silverman working with writers.
Attorney Craig Emanuel of Loeb & Loeb (clients like Ryan Murphy, the Sundance Film Festival) moved most of his business meetings there — it’s 10 minutes from Century City. The schmoozing seems less aggressive. “If I want to say hello to Kevin Huvane dining with Nicole Kidman, it doesn’t feel as invasive as walking over to them in a restaurant,” Emanuel notes.
Then, 6-9, the schmoozy bar crowd arrives, as do the major players there to dine. Thursday is without a doubt the hottest night. The bar crowd heads for the front room of wooden stools, couches and vintage leather chairs from which they can pounce. But the top dogs in the formal back-patio dining area are leaving by 9 p.m., going home to read scripts, tuck in kids and get up at 5 a.m. “The people dining early on the patio run this town,” observes Cameron Silver, owner of vintage store Decades. “They employ almost everyone in the front of the club.”
But not always. Conan O’Brien, spotted recently at the stately front bar, was discussing with his production partner a reality show they want to sell to nemesis NBC. Steve Tisch was two stools away with friends, talking sports.
After 9 p.m., the club’s schizophrenic personality shifts again. Young couples take over the patio dining area. In the front room, agents and hot young actors switch from business to pleasure. One member describes that scene as “Entourage without women in even co-starring roles.” Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly and Charlie Sheen provide the testosterone.
Sure, audible talk is the ratings game, but the action is the mating game. Members are allowed to invite up to five guests, and many guys flaunt their membership privileges as chick magnets. Hence the flurry of AMWs (actress/model/ whatevers) or tall, skinny “ultra-Natasha types.” Serious — or married — actors head to couches on the outdoor smokers terrace. “They can hide there,” a regular confesses. “You can always tell an A-lister by who’s hiding.”
Meanwhile, wannabes dine downstairs at Boa, wishing they could ascend the ivory tower. “Prior to opening in March,” Soho House membership director Samantha Stone says, “our West Hollywood committee preselected people within the creative community to become founding members. It’s a community unlike anything else in L.A. — we have brought like-minded creatives together.” As for applicants being rejected, the club denies this practice. “Our committee reviews all applications at the beginning of every month,” Stone says, “and people are notified directly if they are put through for membership. All other applicants remain on our wait list and are reviewed again the following month, and so on. Memberships are not ‘on hold.’ ”
Really? This seems the equivalent of having your friend request ignored on Facebook.
Indeed, two prominent women, a publicist and a beauty mogul, confess they feel “stuck in Soho House purgatory.” Still, we hear the club’s now seeking more female execs to balance out the boys and their babes. Problem is, one woman says, “there just isn’t an equivalent amount of female power brokers in this town.”
Yet there is no end to the praise insiders pour on the place. “I have to say, I love it,” writer-producer Darren Star says. “I’m bicoastal, so I go to both New York and L.A.; it makes my social life much easier.”
There remains one downside of membership: “The food needs a bit of work,” one member says. “An English chef isn’t going to make the best fish tacos. But then, no one really comes here to eat.”
Of course, no one went to Mortimer’s or Elaine’s in New York for the food either.