Its very name, Soho House, has become a synonym for sybaritic cool.
The New York club – a former warehouse in Manhattan's meat-packing district – boasts a 44-seat cinema and a heated roof-top pool. Berlin's outpost, located in a building once occupied by the Hitler Youth Movement, offers eight floors of amenities, including an elaborate Turkish spa. The Los Angeles retreat, frequented by celebrities, hugs a spot on fabled Sunset Boulevard, while Miami's is a hedonist's paradise: 15-storeys worth of sleeping quarters, a screening room, two pools, a beach club, spa and high-end Cecconi's restaurant. You'd never have to leave.
Compared to all that, Canada's new Soho House seems, at first blush, a little underwhelming: a relatively modest, 10,000-square-foot affair at the northeast corner of Adelaide and Simcoe Streets on the cusp between Toronto's financial and entertainment districts.
Slated to open in September, just in time for the Toronto International Film Festival, it's the latest link in Soho House's chain of luxe private clubs for an artsy – if moneyed – crowd. The concept is not entirely new to Toronto. For the past three years, the company has hosted 'pop-up' houses – and some of the best parties – during TIFF. One was held on a sub-platform at the Bay Street subway and decked out with comfy chairs, Persian rugs and giant 1940s-era industrial fans – and guests like Michael Caine. Last year, George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Bono showed up for an after party for David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method .
Does the city have the critical artistic mass needed to turn the conceit from a sometime event to a permanent fixture? "You never know until you open," said Soho House founder and CEO Nick Jones, who launched his first club in London in 1995. "My gut feel is that Toronto has enough like-minded creative people to make it work. We love the city and the people who live there."
Jones says the club is not aimed merely at the well-heeled. Its initial London incarnation aimed to lure local artists, media mavens and fashionistas. "We've never been a club for people with a lot of disposable income. Our favourite member is the struggling script writer or artist who hasn't quite broken through. They add a lot to the club."
Founding members – 750 (Jones hopes) to start, will each pay $1,800 a year for access only to the local venue or $2,500 for entree to any Soho House – and will have privileges at the adjacent Shangri-La Hotel, which opens in August. That will include access to its screening room, fitness centre, pool, spa, meeting rooms, ballrooms and valet parking.
Raised in Surrey, Jones, now 49, is the middle-class son of an insurance broker. He left school at 17, spent a decade in hotel management, opened a chain of restaurants, then segued into private clubs.
In addition to 10 clubs, the Soho portfolio now embraces six London restaurants and several Cowshed spas and salons. The Toronto location will be located in a restored, early 19th-century Georgian-style property that was once home to the Pretzel Bell Tavern. Jones says he's investing $7-million in the building, which has been vacant and largely derelict since the 1970s.
It's part of an ambitious corporate expansion to cities deemed capable of supporting the Soho model. Clubs in Chicago, Mumbai, Istanbul and Barcelona are projected to open by 2015, and Jones has lately been scouting new locations in South America.
The growth spurt comes courtesy of American billionaire Ronnie Burkle, owner of Ralph's Supermarkets, part owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and, most famously, Friend of Bill Clinton ( Earlier this year, Burkle plopped down $383-million to acquire a controlling 60 per cent stake in the Soho empire.
"It's a great building in a great location," Jones said. "It's true that it does not have accommodations, but nor does our Los Angeles location. The facilities suit the building. It will be relaxed and simple."