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BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | I have finished my exploration of Soho House. It was interesting, and I’m glad that I took the opportunity to check them out.
I see them fitting into this new Lower East Side. No different than the two new luxury hotels going up on Ludlow St. Of course, though — and using this small strip of Ludlow as an example — they are a part of the reason that the Pink Pony closed, Earth Matters closed, Dare Devil Tattoo moved, Max Fish is relocating and Taylor Meade’s apartment became such a valuable piece of property.
If they Soho House does get a liquor license and open, I am sure that their street presence will not be noticeable because they are completely elitist. They do not mix with the street.
My prediction is that with this new form of Sohoization of our community, many of the noisy bars and eateries will be forced out. Those of us who have lived on the L.E.S. have witnessed the past: the East Village/Alphabet City gallery purge, then the eroding away of much of the local, small, independent and mom-and-pop businesses. The only difference between this period and the earlier period is that gentrification is happening at a highly accelerated rate. Gentrification is moving at such a high speed that bicycle racks are popping up all over the place like magic mushrooms after a spring rain.
In my effort to check them out, I heard all the different pitches. I was told that the Soho House in the Meatpacking District got rid of all the suits to make room for more creative types. One of the offers that intrigued me was that they had a program in which an artist who could not afford the heavy, yearly membership fee, which varied between $1,200 for a limited-access membership to $2,400 for full access, could trade creative work for a membership. A membership gave one entry to all of the Soho House clubs worldwide. Sounded positive. Next, the new location on Ludlow St. would need workers. I know creative people who are looking for jobs.
As I started to bring forward names of local artists for membership and jobs, I was told to put that idea on hold since it would be months before the Ludlow place was open. This confused me, since I thought if they liked what the creative person had to offer, then what difference did time make? And if Soho House liked the artwork, they already had one club in New York City where it could be exhibited. Not the case.
They had offered me a membership in trade for some photos. I asked if I could use this trade to get in another artist if I decided not to join. No go. When I visited the Meatpacking Soho House, I saw very few minorities as guests or workers.
Later, I talked to a couple of well-known Downtown artists who traded art and became Soho House members. They only used the membership a couple of times because the cost of food and drinks was so high they could not afford to go there. The limited-budget artists never met any of the so-called “right people” who could help them because there were no facilitators. Making introductions is an art form. A connector must be conscious of putting people together who would be able to mutually benefit from the introduction. Otherwise, being in this unaffordable club is not different than going to a high-end gallery opening or an evening at MoMA. All the major players are at these openings, but so what?
However, I was willing to support it because something is going to be there no matter what. The 139 Ludlow St. building, which is in my area, is one of the few that has an architecturally interesting facade. The building is only three-to-four stories high. Since it does not have landmark status and is a double-wide property, for most developers it would not make sense to keep the building as it is. For them, it would be more practical to tear this place down and build a 10-story luxury modern building. Imagine a 7-Eleven in the middle of the block.
One way of showing support was to hold the Acker Awards at this new Soho House location. Alan Kaufman, in San Francisco, and I, created the bicoastal Acker Awards (www.ackerawards.com) to bring together in one place, and honor, a wide cross-section of creative types who had made a major contribution to the avant-garde. The Acker Awards would give them credibility in the Downtown creative community.
Long story short, the 137-39 Ludlow location is an empty and barren, three-story space with some of the cement floor ripped up — similar to a parking garage with no pillars. Because it had been a printing company it smelled of oil.
The date of the event was set for June 6. The plan was that Soho House would provide the space and the emcees — they mentioned several high-level names, like Susan Sarandon and some famous musicians — take care of the RSVP list by setting up an e-mail account and monitoring the list, get some finger food, nonalcoholic drinks, a DJ, 200 chairs. Fine. As the date was coming closer, the RSVP e-mail address was finally registered, but there was little else. No emcee, nothing.
I was worried. I asked them about this and was scolded — “back off.” They were giving more than $10,000 worth of goods and services (the barren cement space and food) for free, they said. I stepped back and thought it was a joke. But it was no joke. Maybe to them I may look a little eccentric and old-school L.E.S., but that was worth $10,000? Please!
Thankfully, the Angel Orensanz Cultural Foundation, on Norfolk St., stepped up to save the day, and will host the awards on June 6.
My biggest disappointment was not the Soho House people. They behaved as expected. What bothered me was so very few locals attempted to test what was offered. People were just against them. When I wrote articles in favor of the place, nobody stepped forward as an individual. All I got was snide comments using pseudonyms. You have to stand up to be against. You have to know what you are against. Just to be against to be against is a pitiful position.
I still support Soho House. They are the lesser of what could be so much worse. There is no reason for them not to be there. The place is not for me. But then, who cares? This is not all about me. It is going to be something. The world has changed. What is, is what is, and that is all there is. My world has changed. I cannot hate everyone. Life moves on and so do I.