Private Clubs: Cocktail empire

The British are coming. From NYC to Cannes, who better to run a venue where exclusivity is mixed with snobbery and style? Lucie Greene on the clubs luring stars to the bars

When the Cannes Film Festival opens on Wednesday, the hottest place to be will not be in front of the flashbulbs on the red carpet or sitting next to the latest starlet at a glamorous premiere, it will be behind the closed doors of Century Cannes.

For the duration of the two-week bash, London's fashionable members-only venue Century is opening a luxury beach venue that is set to be the destination for discerning movie moguls, producers, and stars.

Cool British clubs (of the drinking and hob-nobbing variety, rather than the E-popping and dancing variety) are a hot export. A new generation of cocktail colonials is making parts of cities from Hong Kong to Miami hip and Brit.

Their success lies in their ability to appeal both to local crowds after a bit of snooty velvet-rope, London style ("No one does snobbery and social exclusion like the Brits," says Ben Widdicombe, gossip columnist at the New York Daily News, commenting on the success of Soho House in that city), and to jetsetting Brits who want a chic home from home.

British clubs now have such a starry reputation that even hard-to-impress Tinseltown was aflutter when Nick Jones - Mr Soho House - did a test run for his LA club at a Hollywood mansion during the Oscars. And now the town's citizens are fighting for application forms, following the news that he will unveil a permanent Soho House LA within the next year. He is also opening an outpost in South Beach, Miami.

Meanwhile the actor Neil Morrissey and his business partner Matt Roberts are taking their Hurst House club format to Italy this year, with plans for further exclusive properties in New York and Paris. And Sloane-haunt Mint is opening a lavish venue in Hong Kong in September, with another scheduled for Moscow.

And it doesn't end here. The Hallion in Edinburgh and Glasgow has plans for a transatlantic sister-club in Manhattan. "People want a level of social sophistication and nice surroundings. They are fed up with all these chain bars," says the Hallion's Glyn Partridge.

And while these global style outposts are good news for members, they are also great news for the owners - there is a lot of money to be made, as Nick Jones has proved. Just like Alexander McQueen or Vivienne Westwood, Jones and his rivals are creating international luxury brands with a British twist. Hence the sure-fire success for Century Cannes.

"There are 50,000 people at the Cannes Festival. It's crazy!" says Century co-founder Pierre Condou. "We want to create a similar environment to our Century London - a one-stop destination where you can come and work, stay for dinner and relax. And do lots of socialising."

"The festival is a pretty unfocussed event," says Emma Bewick of Juno Productions, a celebrity events planning agency that stages Cannes parties. "Century draws together the kind of people you need to network with, while also being glam enough to attract the celebrities. Century is where all the big players are."

"Celebrities feel cosseted in filtered environments like these," says Si Si Penaloza, producer for E! and Sky channels, and a seasoned party girl. "Members have, in effect, been 'curated', thus, eliminating vulgar and distasteful displays of gawking."

Even at home, clubs are increasingly important during big celebrity events. At the Baftas, for example, both of the hottest parties were hosted in private clubs. Brand manager Charles Finch had his pre-Bafta soirée at Annabel's in Mayfair and film producer Harvey Weinstein's after party was at The Hospital in Covent Garden.

At the Annabel's event, Jake Gyllenhaal mixed with Anna Wintour, Matt Dillon, Ioan Gruffudd, and Thandie Newton. Michelle Williams and Heath Ledger stayed for the record time of an hour (the couple have a habit of leaving celebrity parties within minutes of arriving), and Christian Louboutin strutted his stuff on the dance floor with Mrs Marilyn Manson, Dita Von Teese. Who else could create such an atmosphere?

"Celebs and moguls go to private clubs for the feeling of insulation from the outside world. It is very rare that any member would spill information to the tabloids, or [New York gossip column] page six," says Nathan Davis, a former events organiser at the Whitney Museum, New York.

With its huge numbers of style-obsessed creatives, New York is a natural place for British private members' clubs to expand. "Much as Americans might like to think they got over all of that in 1776, they're just as thrilled as anyone else at the idea that they might become a member of some élite club that their neighbours aren't invited to join," says Widdicombe.

Nathan Davis adds: "New Yorkers love Soho House because it combines two of the most beloved traditions of New York social life: inimitable, all-night parties, and nearly impenetrable exclusivity."

Manhattanites aside, the club also provides an easy home for Brits in town, who can't be bothered with the queues at the Marquee Club, or reservation hotlines at the latest hip restaurant.

"Lots of British bands head straight there because they know it's cool, and don't have time to find other places to hang out," says music journalist Miranda Sawyer.

New York member and patron John Davies says, "I can't be bothered with the fashionista fascists at the doors of these New York bars. At Soho House I can just walk straight in and I know the crowd will be good."

But what will the new arrivals add to this scene? Partridge at The Hallion is looking at properties in the city to house a bar, restaurant and hotel. "We think the Scottish thing will play well with New Yorkers," he says. "It won't be all tartan and bagpipes though. Just accents."

Mint owner Alistair Paton is focusing on China, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. In London, Mint is the haunt of aristocrats and international celebrities. Paton, 28, plans to open Mint Hong Kong this year, catering for the city's investment bankers, television presenters, socialites and executives. He has a similar venture planned for Moscow to laumch within the next two years.

Members' clubs are also enjoying a gold rush in the UK. Hurst House is opening new hotels in Wales and Hertfordshire this summer, and is looking at Edinburgh. Soho House is opening two large clubs in Shore-ditch and Chiswick in London. Mint, with an eye on London's rich Russian residents, is said to be in talks with Roman Abramovich to start building a new £12m venue in Chelsea this year.

It seems there is now a club to fit every social niche. Footballers hang at Pangea and Chinawhite, the Sloanes at Boujis and Mamilanji (Princes William and Harry, and their girlfriends, in addition to visiting stars such as Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera), the film crowd at Century Club (Kristin Scott Thomas, Ralph Fiennes) Soho House (Sadie Frost) and Groucho (Jude Law and Coldplay), the music and media at The Hospital, and the socialites and Russians at the Cuckoo Club.

"No one does these things quite like the British," concludes Emma Bewick. "And long may we reign!"

MEMBERS' ENCLOSURE

Whether you want to hang out with billionaires or comedians, there's a club just right for you

The Hallion

FOUNDED BY: Glyn Partidge, Scotland's 13th richest man, in 2003

BASES: Edinburgh, Glasgow

WHERE NEXT: New York

NOTABLE MEMBERS AND PATRONS: Matthew Williamson, Mackenzie Crook, Simon Cowell, Julie Burchill and Christian Slater.

THE VIBE: The original Edinburgh venue is a glorious Georgian House. The Hallion goes out of its way to prove it's very inclusive - in an exclusive kind of way. It boasts that, "members will be accepted regardless of race, creed, age, gender or complete lack of dress sense." There's something sexy and laidback about the place, indeed you are even allowed to strip off - if you are going to the spa that is. The club admits to one area of sex discrimination: the women's loos are far grander than the men's. Indeed, they are so smart that they are referred to as the boudoir and come complete with make-up tables. The bar and restaurant are very good too. Where's our application form?

Century Club

FOUNDED BY: Pierre Condou

BASED: London and on La Croisette for the Cannes Film Festival

NOTABLE MEMBERS AND PATRONS: Paul Bettany, Steve Coogan, Michael Winterbottom, Gerard Depardieu, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ralph Fiennes.

THE VIBE: aimed broadly at the media set - you'll need to fork out £500 a year to join, or £400 if you are an out-of-towner. The club says that it offers a mix of privacy, exclusivity and bonhomie in a setting that's both comfortable and discreet. Seems like they've got everything covered.

M1NT

FOUNDED BY: Alistair Paton

WHERE: London

WHERE NEXT: Hong Kong, Moscow

NOTABLE MEMBERS AND PATRONS: bankers, socialites

THE VIBE: money. Indeed the whole Mint enterprise (or M1NT, as they say) is based on cash. The first 250 memberships bought shares in the club which made the buyers the owners. The same masterstroke is taking place in Hong Kong. It has been said that among the first Chelsea members there were nine billionaires. You can also expect to see lots of glam women. Well, maybe we'll join after all. They also achieved some publicity by turning down an application from the Beckhams.

Hurst House

FOUNDED BY: Neil Morrissey and Matt Roberts

WHERE: London and Laugharne, Wales

WHERE NEXT: Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire, Italy, Edinburgh and New York.

NOTABLE MEMBERS AND PATRONS: literary types and media.

THE VIBE: they say that they take their inspiration "from the London coffee houses of Hogarth's era, the New York Algonquin Round Table, and Peter Cook's Establishment Club," and that they hope to provide an "intimate, exclusive haven for the talented, the brilliant, the funny, and the downright hilarious." And there are fewer rules than at rival joints, hell, you're even allowed to use your mobile phone. They suggest you might be a potential member if you "like to debate, drink, meet, eat, listen, fool around, and generally give your good-time muscles a bit of a work out." That's the only kind of work out we can face, so let us in.

Soho House

OWNED BY: Nick Jones

WHERE: Soho, New York

WHERE NEXT: Miami, LA, Shoreditch, Chiswick

NOTABLE MEMBERS AND PATRONS: Leonardo DiCaprio, Iman, Matt Damon, Alan Cumming, Kate Winslet, Kyle MacLachlan, Sophie Dahl, Lenny Kravitz, Cynthia Rowley.

THE VIBE: Soho House in, er, Soho London is aimed at people in film, media and the arts. It's a heady cocktail; some nights the place is jumping but because it's set out over several floors of neighbouring houses you can usually find a quiet corner. Great clubby food too. Members often head out to the country to enjoy Jones's hospitality at the wonderful Babington House hotel in Somerset. In New York, you'll find Soho House in the city's cool Meatpacking District where members can use the spa, roof deck and screening room. We say this is an all round good thing.

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