If the term 'members-only club' brings to mind a wood-panelled library full of ageing white men and cigar smoke, it's time to catch up with what's happening in the northern hemisphere.
These days, in London, New York and beyond, a good portion of the creative
class (and their associates) proudly brandish membership to Soho House, a clubhouse/hotel collection that provides sustenance and rejuvenation in key business locales across Europe and America.
Soho House members are a diverse bunch, and they're generally much younger than the private-club members of yore – in fact, there's a special discounted membership tier for under 27s. And membership isn't granted on the basis of wealth or lineage: instead, applicants must demonstrate that they have a connection to the "creative industries" and are friends with other Soho House members.
For road warriors
The club began in the 1990s on Greek Street in central London and now boasts more than 20 locations, including outposts in Mumbai, Amsterdam and Toronto. Most locations comprise a club space for co-working and socialising; some sort of recreational amenity, perhaps a cinema or a spa; and a small hotel with characterful rooms.
Together, the clubs provide an all-bases-covered work/travel solution: members can access work facilities while on the road, interact with a curated group of interesting people and – yes – get their laundry done without paying exorbitant hotel rates. It's a home-away-from-home model that's perfectly suited to the remote working and freelancing that many of us do today.
The benefits of Soho House really became apparent to me on a recent trip to the UK, during which the club invited me to check out two of its most recent additions.
First, I arrived at White City House, which occupies part of the former BBC Television Centre in West London. It was late afternoon, and the main club area was already buzzing (co-working seemed to have concluded for the day), but I was able to find a quiet spot to check my email before heading to the 22,000sq ft gym to shake off my jetlag.
Afterwards, I swam in the rooftop pool and enjoyed an uncharacteristically lovely London sunset. Later, grabbing food downstairs, I struck up a conversation with a couple of young fashion designers from Brooklyn. My guestroom, a marvel of mid-century design, was miraculously quiet.
I also spent a night at Kettner's, which is set across seven Georgian townhouses in Soho, just steps from the club's original Greek Street location. It was here that I discovered Soho House's famed complimentary cookies (the most delightful oat and raisin biscuits I've ever tried) and saved at least $100 getting my laundry done.
Value is a key reason to sign up. For example, non-members can book Soho House's hotel rooms but have to pay about 25 per cent more than members. For those who pay the $2500 annual membership fee, the discounted guestrooms can make a year's worth of travel between hubs such as London and New York significantly cheaper than it might otherwise be.
Deprived down under
Unfortunately, Australians hoping to join Soho House may have a hard time doing so. Currently, membership is only open to residents of Sydney (which is one of the club's approved Cities Without Houses destinations) – and there's the recommendation requirement.
So, what's the alternative here at home? The short answer is: there isn't one. The south-east Asian outfit Kafnu recently opened its first Australian space in Sydney, offering a similar combo of co-working, socialising and sleeping, but it hasn't announced any other domestic locations. (It's definitely worth checking out if you travel to cities such as Hong Kong and Taipei, however).
Then there are the more established social clubs, such as the invite-only, $10,000-a-year private club at The Ivy in Sydney or Melbourne's old-school Kelvin Club. But these spaces are designed for boozing, not kicking professional goals.
Anyone who's ever struggled to find that perfect place to stay on a business trip to Brisbane, Canberra or another domestic capital would surely welcome a club like Soho House here in Australia. The home-on-the-road model makes perfect sense in a spread-out country like ours, and the emphasis on creativity instead of social standing fits nicely with our egalitarian spirit. Watch this space.