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Cruel Britannia

Can the British impose their class system on New York's chattering masses? Just try getting into the new private club Soho House.

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The ongoing insinuation of the Brits into New York's high-end media circles has taken a more brazen turn recently, with the attempted imposition of one of those boozy, members-only London networking clubs, Soho House, on the city's insecurity landscape. Accompanied by snotty pre-launch press declaring that people like Lizzie Grubman and Paris Hilton wouldn't be asked to join, but those lucky enough to be invited would find David Bowie and Graydon Carter lounging by the fire, Soho House instantly sent a shiver of anxiety through the expat community. As one Brit editor, fretting over whether he'd be asked to join, put it gloomily, "They're trying to import the class system!"

Happily, one of the square, gray admissions envelopes arrived in his mailbox last week, inviting him, for an annual $811.87, to become a founding member (so someone on the committee, which includes Alan Cumming, Griffin Dunne, and literary agent Nicole Aragi, likes him!). He'll get the run of the restaurant, drawing room, and playroom on the sixth floor of a warehouse on Ninth Avenue and 13th Street.

"It's an attempt to introduce a certain English scene to Manhattan," notes expat New York Post movie critic Jonathan Foreman. In London, Soho was part of a trend that started in the mid-eighties with the better-known Groucho and Blacks clubs.

Vanity Fair has already had a party in the unfinished space. Aragi is turning away people who want to join, having already submitted her allowance of twenty names. Meanwhile, Time editor Michael Elliott, a Brit who's a member of both Groucho and Soho, wonders, "Are New York hacks too p.c. to enjoy the louche atmosphere of London clubs?" Others, however, are less enamored. "London media culture, at Soho or Groucho, is so obnoxious," one puts it. "It really does encourage an awful in- and outness." Tim Geary, a Brit novelist, ex–Ralph Lauren model, and Soho committee member, has run up against that, too. "For somebody who objects in principle to something that excludes others, well, we don't have an answer," he admits. "But we're not Augusta." And people who feel left out can always try and become an annual member, which costs approximately $200 more, but you only need to be nominated by two members. "Hey, you know me now. I could put you forward!"


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