How many exclusive members-only clubs can one island hold? The update of the stuffy gentleman’s club, which took off with the arrival of Soho House in the Meatpacking District in 2003, is having another moment right now. (See: Casa Cipriani, Casa Cruz, Zero Bond.) “Private clubs remind me of boutique hotels in the early ’90s when I started learning the industry,” says hotelier Jeff Klein, who got his start working as a bellman in 1993, owns the Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles, and used to run the Monkey Bar with Graydon Carter in midtown (a pandemic casualty.) Now, Klein wants to open an East Coast outpost of his San Vicente Bungalows club, repurposing the somewhat down-at-heels Jane Hotel in the West Village. “They’re serving a real purpose,” Klein says. “The more connected we are with Instagram and texting and emailing, the more disconnected we’ve become as human beings. I think we crave a sense of community that is no longer really available because we’re so connected.” He presented his plans before a crotchety West Village community board last night, who didn’t seem all that impressed.
The capital of Klein’s mini-empire is the Sunset Tower Hotel, a 1929 Art Deco fort on Sunset Boulevard that brims with old Hollywood stardust. (The hotel’s restaurant, Tower Bar, is run by a well-connected former magazine editor, Gabé Doppelt.) The San Vicente Bungalows is nearby, a cluster of low-slung clapboard buildings erected in the late 19th century to house railroad workers. The Bungalows location, down the hill from Sunset and up the hill from West Hollywood’s gay nightlife strip, might have had something to do with the fact that, for many years, it became known as a druggy sex hotel, where, old-timers say, many a man-on-man pornographic video was shot to feed content needs in the age of VCRs.
And now, Klein wants to bring it here, only blocks from the Soho House’s Meatpacking location.
The red-brick Jane Hotel, like the Bungalows, wasn’t built for the rich. It opened in 1908 as the American Seamen’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute with 156 rooms that cost 25 cents a night, catering to the needs of seamen when the West Side still was lined with piers. In 1912, it was used to house the survivors of the Titanic. In 1998, its theater was the original space where Hedwig and the Angry Inch was performed. Then, in 2008, it was reinvented the last time, by Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, as a less expensive but still stylish sister ship to their Bowery Hotel. (The Jane’s club was quite the hot spot for several years.)
Klein says he’ll hire the British designer Rose Uniacke — who’s married to David Heyman (he produced the Harry Potter films) and has been dubbed “the queen of serene” by the Financial Times — to rework the Jane. He promises that she won’t “blanch any of the soul out” of the building while modernizing it so that it doesn’t “feel silly.” “It’s very tricky. I had a similar challenge with Sunset Tower,” says Klein.
Klein has about 300 original members he’ll invite to “SVB NYC,” as he’s calling it, and current members of the L.A. branch can come too. You must be nominated by a current member just to apply. (It’s $1,800 for the year if you’re under 35; $4,200 if you’re old.) “Money doesn’t matter,” promises Klein, “in fact, if you’re a rich person, you probably have less of a chance of getting in than a non-rich person. There are so many billionaires that we have rejected in West Hollywood, because, why are you interesting? Because you’re rich? That doesn’t make you interesting.” In other words, less Wall Street, more art and fashion types, as well as film people who are “such a part of the brand,” he says. “But in a New York way. Indie and documentary filmmakers.” He plans on building two screening rooms.
In the community board meeting, West Villagers raised the specter of the Soho House. “It started off like how you are claiming to start off,” one observed ominously. As pro-Klein neighbors, including Vito Schnabel and the screenwriters Noah Pritzker and Danny Strong, rallied to defend Klein as a smooth operator, I wondered if what really was making them cranky was the normal human fear they’ll not be deemed interesting enough and be left out.