Soho. It's a measure of a city, a means of quantifying its cool quotient. London? It's got the original, home to any number of new and fashionable bars and restaurants. New York? Head South of Houston. And when in Los Angeles or Hong Kong, look no further than South of Hollywood.
But Berlin is a different beast. Here, today's underground neighbourhood is tomorrow's Piccadilly Circus. You wouldn't dream of applying anything so trite as an international label to elevate a district's status. So when the Soho House group chose the German capital as a new location for its expanding empire in 2010, eyebrows were understandably raised. What place did a members' club have in Europe's capital of off-kilter cool, least of all in a former Jewish-owned department store that was seized by the Nazis and later became a politburo HQ? Did Berlin need Soho?
Happily, the project has been handled sensitively and, moreover, stylishly. The gleaming white Bauhaus building, all eight storeys of it, has been transformed, most recently with the recent unveiling of 20 elegant apartments this summer.
The industrial-chic lobby has also just had a makeover that has softened its somewhat cold, overtly trendy aesthetic – Damien Hirst graffiti and all – with a vast and intricate chandelier, sofas and leather armchairs. A collection of ping-pong tables, something of a fashion in Berlin, has been moved upstairs. To find them, take the lifts, lined with purposely defaced tan leather (the only instance where the hotel's stylometer goes off the scale), that also whisk you up to the guestrooms, Club Floor and rooftop pool and bar.
The Club Floor gives you the chance to mingle with (fashionable and good-looking) locals, either at the decadent bar or on one of the eminently comfortable floral sofas in the living room area or in the House Kitchen restaurant. The richly decorated room circles the bar, with windows offering a near uninterrupted circular view of the city below. It's a comfortable environment that wears the transition from day to night well. However, we found the bar service a little too relaxed – the barman was more interested in his clubbing arrangements that night than taking our drink order. And when my companion's whisky sour eventually arrived, it was disappointingly sweet.
However, the service was otherwise attentive, welcoming and unpretentious. And with the Club Floor gently buzzing with well-groomed locals at most times of the day, it looked as if Berlin's Soho outpost is here to stay.
The hotel stands at the crossroads of busy Mitte and cutesy Prenzlauer Berg. And my, it's a big crossroads. A six-lane highway, to be precise, with a pair of tram lines slicing through the middle. It's big, it's grey and it's not very pretty. However, the location compensates with convenience. Mitte is Berlin's "middle" – firmly inside the former East Berlin, with plenty of relics of Communism strewn around. The vast Alexanderplatz with its busy train station (and connections to Schönefeld Airport) and iconic Fernsehturm TV Tower is a short walk away. By contrast, Prenzlauer Berg is elegant and peaceful. This is a place to wander once you've ticked off the tourist sites, to seek out relaxed cafés or rummage through weekend flea markets, such as Arkonaplatz's on a Sunday morning.
The 40 bedrooms are arranged over four floors, accessed from low-lit candy-striped corridors and spanning the Soho House spectrum: Tiny up to Extra Large. The smallest are cosy – in a good way, with the look of an attic room. They have been decorated in bosky tones with pillar-box-red painted wooden beds and emerald velvet chairs. As you go up the categories, the rooms take on grander characteristics.
My Big room was bigger than big, and, like a cross section, divulged the building's core fabric under the decadent layering with flashes of original bare concrete on one wall. The feminine dusky pink walls elsewhere were complemented by dark parquet floors, chocolate brown shot-silk curtains and a shell-style mossy green velvet bedhead. Genuflections to vintage styling included antique cabinets, dressers and light fittings, an old gramophone with vinyl selection, Bakelite phone and digital Roberts radio.
A sliding wall panel pulled back to reveal the Big bathroom, complete with roll-top tin-clad bath, a shower-cum-steam room and the full range of indulgent Cowshed bathroom goodies, also available in the basement spa.
The 20 apartments are intended for use by visiting "creatives", and can be rented for a weekend or several months. They have been carefully designed to feel like home – furniture has been sourced from antiques fairs and auctions in the US; kitchens are fitted with Belfast sinks, Nespresso machines and dishwashers, and hi-tech TVs and sound systems come as standard.
Soho House, Torstrasse 1, Berlin, Germany (00 49 30 40 50 440; sohohouseberlin.com).
Double rooms start at €230, room only.Reuse content