It sounds like the premise of a particularly farcical Ealing Comedy–a British nightclub decides to set up a rural outpost in the middle of the English countryside.
In the Ealing version, the place would swiftly be invaded by curious farmers tempted by metropolitan bacchanals and loose city women, a herd of wild pigs would be found bathing in the swimming pool and the humbled owners would be driven back to the safety of their urban sanctuary before the final credits rolled on a scene of cattle grazing on the softball pitch.
In the small village of Great Tew, in Oxfordshire, however, the story is following a different trajectory.
For it is in this ancient, picture-postcard village, 75 miles from London, that Soho House, the British private members' club that has so successfully exported worldwide its distinctively English conflation of class-ridden exclusion and highly sprung leather sofas, set up shop this autumn, opening Soho Farmhouse.
It is an urban hipster’s rural idyll, representing a specific vision of the ‘countryside’ where, for example, reconditioned milk floats pressed into service as mobile cocktail bars zip around the crunchy gravel roads, and club members swim in an infinity pool artfully set into a small lake, on which boats are moored for purely scenic effect.
The unorthodox experiment has so far been deemed to be, much to the general amazement of some of the more cynical locals, a wild success.
On a recent Friday afternoon, for example, the Farm Yard (as the central inside/outside bar area is called) was swarming with exactly the kind of trendy crowd Soho House creator Nick Jones must have had in mind when he bought the 100-acre site off a local grand estate.
The principal cast members are established creatives--photographers, journalists, writers, fashion people, film and TV producers and PRs--and entrepreneurial businessmen in the 40-50-year-old age bracket, mixed together with a similar sized dollop of younger, more attractive ‘gonnabe’ extras.
The club is located not far from the town of Chipping Norton, home of the so-called ‘Chipping Norton set’ which includes racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, and his wife Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand woman (and recently returned to power as chief executive of News UK); Jeremy Clarkson; Elisabeth Murdoch; Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha; and Steve Hilton--Cameron's former director of strategy--and his wife, Rachel, former global head of communications and public policy for Google, now senior vice-president of policy and communications at Uber.
Cameron is not believed to be a Soho Farmhouse member, but he made an appearance at the Farmhouse opening party and danced till 2 am with his wife.
Alex James, author, cheesemaker, and bassist of indie band Blur, is a member, and Rose van Cutsem (whose daughter Grace was a bridesmaid at William and Kate’s wedding, the little girl who covered her ears on the balcony) was personally recruited by Nick Jones to handpick the committee.
Soho Farmhouse is also quite near Daylesford, Lady Carole Bamford's wonderland of organic (and extremely expensive) luxury food and other goods, which the brilliant critic Matthew Norman described thus in 2012: "If Daylesford Organic Farm did not exist, the Guild of Satirists would have mandated its most destructive member to invent it."
In the three months since Soho Farmhouse's soft opening, who has and who has not been allowed to join the club has become the principal topic of gossip and intrigue among the millionaire families which dot the local area.
Dinner-party conversation of late among members has been focused on the club’s policy of not allowing the children of members to use the swimming pool and ‘teeny barn’ unless the kids are junior members themselves.
The £300 per annum cost of making a child a member is not the issue--rather it’s the club’s typically exclusionary policy of prioritizing the children of committee members (there are just 40 of them) to become junior members.
“It’s brilliant,” says one committee member. “The great fear was that it was going to become a kids’ club and they have stopped that in its tracks.”
“It’s outrageous,” says another, with just standard membership (which, ironically enough, costs more—£1,000 per year—than being a committee member—700). “I’m paying a thousand pounds a year to be a member of a club, and my kids can’t use the pool? What planet are they on?”
The pool is reportedly now being policed by staff oh-so-casually checking the membership credentials of junior swimmers.
There is one foolproof way to get your kids into the pool (and the ice rink, and the softball pitch, and the horse riding lessons, and the screening room, and bikes, and wellies) regardless of your membership status.
Get a room.
Like other Soho Houses around the world, the Farmhouse doubles as a club and a hotel, offering overnight stays.
Non-members who are hotel guests have full, if temporary membership privileges: You can choose from a variety of rental accommodations, from the renovated 18th-century buildings, seven-bedroom farmhouse to the 40 chic one-, two- and three-bedroom wooden guest cabins built along the banks of a lake.
But be warned, this is not a location for those on a budget: Cabins start at the equivalent of around $500 per night.
However, depending on just how desperate you are to be included in the UK’s most unlikely hot new destination, that may or may not represent a bargain.