How Many Private Clubs Can L.A. Handle?

Don Freeman

New entrants into the exclusivity game -- including NeueHouse, a private membership workspace whose founders are making plans to open three L.A. locations -- look to enter town with the idea (and hope) that Soho House isn't for everyone.

This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Call it the ultimate experiment in curation: Why go out and interact with an unfiltered crowd when you can mix and network with a preselected segment of humanity? Whether you're looking to hang with fellow Ivy Leaguers, rub elbows with the tech set or limit your socializing to the top echelon of screenwriters, a flurry of social clubs and private hotels is poised to alter the L.A. landscape with a wave of upcoming members-only venues. The clubs represent the first competition to 4-year-old Soho House West Hollywood. While some will be looking to pick off those eyeing entry to Soho but still stuck on the waiting list (the club is said to limit the number of talent agents admitted), others are looking to develop their own distinctive mix.

QUINTESSENTIALLY: The concierge service converted a London townhouse into a private space for members.

"Los Angeles didn't think it liked the private club concept, but it turns out it can't resist it," says Aaron Simpson, who, along with Ben Elliot, nephew of Camilla Parker-Bowles, and Paul Drummond founded Quintessentially, a global concierge service -- helping with everything from travel to event planning -- with such members as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and the executive staff of Beats by Dre. The cost to join: up to $45,000. And while Simpson says the company's L.A. staff is set to double in the next few months -- when it will go from 20 to 40 lifestyle concierges in its swank Sunset Plaza offices -- his aim is to open a members-only hotel.

SOHO HOUSE: The London-based club is looking to expand its West Hollywood presence with a second L.A. location. Click photo to enlarge.

"This is the most networked town in the world. Soho House is specific to media; we're more about business networking rather than writing scripts over coffee," says Simpson. Quintessentially already offers a members-only meeting space in London. Now, Simpson adds, "We're looking to do a not-too-large hotel, 100 rooms at the most, for our members, most likely opening in the next year."

NORWOOD: The New York club, located in an 1845 Chelsea townhouse, has plans for an L.A. expansion. Click photo to enlarge. 

Alan Linn, founder of New York's private club Norwood, located in a Chelsea townhouse purchased by the club's investors for $8.2 million in 2006, also wants a West Coast presence. "We're looking to open in the next year to 18 months," he says. "Like our New York space, we want a historically significant location in L.A."

But will the explosion of clubs find enough people willing to pay for prescreened pals and exclusive privileges? "L.A. is absolutely the next city," says James Harris of real estate brokerage The Agency. "It's now a destination city, like London and New York, where these places are flourishing. So are they going to all end up at the beach or in West Hollywood or downtown? It's not yet clear. What's certain is that Quintessentially could open a private hotel 100 feet from Soho House and have a rooftop pool, and they'd immediately have a waiting list -- it's a different kind of client than Soho House. It's less about precisely where these clubs go and more about who their members are."

NEUEHOUSE: The New York members-only workplace includes glassed-in offices and open areas. It plans to open in L.A. within the next few months. Click photo to  enlarge.

One club poised to take up serious square footage in multiple locations is less about after-hours frolicking and more about getting down to work. NeueHouse, a private membership workspace that opened in New York in September, offers memberships to work (and dine and mingle) in its industrial-chic environment ($400 a month gets you time at a library-style table, while $1,400 offers a private office) designed by high-flying architect David Rockwell (of this year's Oscars green room). Members include Locomotive Films' Alexandra Kerry and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. "While making [my movie Shelter], NeueHouse was invaluable," says actor/director Paul Bettany, a member. "You can find a secluded corner and write undisturbed for hours. Next you can begin to take meetings in a wildly comfortable environment, and, once you've wooed financiers and producers, you can finally open up an incredibly cool office space upstairs, out of which you can run production. It also has a great edit suite and a beautiful screening room." NeueHouse co-founder Joshua Abram says L.A. is the next stop. "We're looking at spaces in the 50,000- to 100,000-square-foot range for L.A. and will most likely sign on a space in the next 90 to 120 days," he says. "The plan is to have one in either West Hollywood or Hollywood, another toward the beach and a third downtown."

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That might put the club on a similar path as Soho House, which reportedly has been scouring the city for more than a year for the perfect second location. "They've been extremely thorough ... and investing heavily in due diligence in a variety of areas, from downtown to La Brea, as well as Malibu and Venice," says one commercial real estate broker. "The latest is that they're now most seriously considering Venice or Santa Monica."

Not that every private club involves a brick-and-mortar location. Molly Swenson, 26, joined IvyConnect, a New York-based social club that launched an L.A. chapter in February. Members pay $500 annually to meet in a variety of settings, from The London West Hollywood to private homes. Swenson, who has a degree from Harvard and is the COO of social-action news website RYOT (advisory board members include Ian Somerhalder), also belongs to Soho House but says there's little duplication. "I meet more people in the corporate sector at IvyConnect. Soho House is more about the entertainment crowd."

41 OCEAN: The Santa Monica members-only club recently debuted a restaurant open to the public. Click photo to enlarge.

So is L.A. destined to see people mingling only in carefully prescribed niches? Maybe not. Producer Sandy Climan, a member of 41 Ocean, a 1-year-old private club and restaurant in Santa Monica, says the space attracts members from digital, entertainment, philanthropic and business fields. "When I held my Oscar-viewing party there, the screening room was the perfect location," says The Aviator producer. "We hosted everyone from the investors from London to filmmakers from the Persian Gulf," says Climan. "And then on the patio sofas, my sons found a comfortable place to take a nap. It's as if people were in my living room without having to be in my living room."