“As to whether we will succeed in L.A., it’s very difficult to give an answer that doesn’t make us sound either arrogant or clueless,” says membership director Tim Geary, a Cambridge-educated former model–cum–novelist who helped launch Soho House New York. He notes that the mix of members at Soho House West Hollywood will more closely resemble that of the London original than the New York branch, where even he concedes the doors have been opened too wide. “We lost our way a little bit,” he says.
In mid-January a “hard-hat” dinner at long tables set amid construction debris provided a first peek of the new club for 80 guests, including Jennifer Aniston, Stephen Fry, novelist Bret Easton Ellis, Italian aristocrat and microbudget filmmaker Tao Ruspoli and lovebirds Ryan Phillippe and Abbie Cornish. If the crowd didn’t quite represent the crème de la crème of the local social establishment, it was at least whole milk. According to Jones, that’s about how it should be.
“Getting the right mix is not all about the power brokers,” he explains, adding that he wants to attract “creative” people who have personal connections with the membership committee rather than cold-calling the top names on a Power List. “The perfect room is a mix of young and established people. It’s not all about one set.”
As for one social contingency that arguably defines L.A. more than any other city, Jones claims that celebrities will have to pay their membership dues just like ordinary mortals. So would the Jonas Brothers be turned away from the door if they arrived without the proper credentials?
“Not if my daughter is around, because she loves them,” jokes Jones before laying down the law. “If you’re not a member, you won’t get in.”
Jones grew up near London as the son of an insurance-broker father and a mother who entertained frequently. Diagnosed as dyslexic while in school, he never went to college but instead entered the hospitality business while still in his teens. Within a few years he was a marketing manager of the five-star Grosvenor House in London, and in his mid-20s he opened his first three London restaurants. They were a disaster.
“The food was disgusting,” Jones recalls merrily. “The service was diabolical. During the first three years of running those restaurants, I learned what the customer wants, because it was absolutely the opposite from what I was doing.”
He righted himself in 1992 with a small bistro called Café Bohème and, later, with the first Soho House, which debuted in 1995 in a warren of Georgian rooms above the restaurant. It had nothing to do with the traditional gentlemen’s clubs of Pall Mall—none of which, curiously, Jones has ever visited. “I always thought, Why would you want to go to a club full of men?” he says. “Soho House changed what a private members club should be, which is 50 percent women, 50 percent guys. It turned the stuffiness on its head.” (And how: Celebrity visitors have included Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and Nicole Kidman, and during a children’s party there in 2002, the two-year-old daughter of Sadie Frost and Jude Law ate half of an ecstasy tablet she found on the floor.)