Should L.A.'s Soho House Watch Its Back?

41 Ocean Patio - H 2013
Elizabeth Daniels Photography

41 Ocean Patio - H 2013

41 Ocean opens with ex-William Morris Agency chief Jim Wiatt as an investor as still others attempt to create another private club.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Soho House is getting some competition. Others have taken note of the L.A. branch’s Hollywood dominance and are angling to break into the private-club market. Chief among them is 41 Ocean, which opened Jan. 30 a few yards from the Santa Monica Pier and hopes to position itself at the crossroads of the city’s entertainment and tech scenes.

“When you have a room full of people who do the same thing, it gets boring really quickly,” says club co-owner Max Russo, 31, who dreamed up the 4,100-square-foot throwback Spanish Revival space eight months ago. Larry David, Warren Beatty and Mike Judge stopped by within its first week, and investors include MySpace co-founder Josh Berman and former William Morris Agency chief Jim Wiatt.

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41 Ocean’s early adopters see the club, which charges $2,000 for a yearly membership (Soho House costs about the same), as a geographic complement to Soho’s mid-city reign. “I live in Venice, and there really isn’t anything like 41 Ocean that exists on this side of town,” says music video director Anthony Mandler (Rihanna, Drake, fun.). Adds Wiatt, who’s also a member of the nearby (and old-guard) Jonathan Club: “Anyone who lives in Los Angeles knows that in order to maximize efficiency, you stay either west or east of the 405 after 4 p.m.”

Other clubs want in too. Norwood, affiliated with London’s trendy Groucho Club and itself based out of a Manhattan townhouse, has been scouting L.A. locations for at least a year. And an entity called the Venice Social Club was already in and out of escrow last summer and fall on Anjelica Huston’s compound at 69 Windward Ave., with a $12 million bid to turn it into a luxe gathering spot. Those plans are on hold.

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41 Ocean emphasizes its small membership (now less than 250, compared with Soho House’s estimated 2,500) and its chef -- Chris Crary, who appeared on season nine of Top Chef. “Food was where we thought we could set ourselves apart,” Russo says.

But Soho House loyalists are dismissive of 41 Ocean, noting its lack of a proper screening room -- a screen descends from the ceiling -- and the fact that it rushed to launch without a slate of cultural programming. (Russo has plans for everything from music performances to comedy acts.) And one insider disagrees with the premise that smaller is better: “Who cares how many members there are if it isn’t filled with people you want to meet?”