The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street

The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House

Discover the story of our very first House in the heart of London’s Soho, and everything it offers members today

Tuesday 14 February 2023 By Anastasiia Fedorova

Located in the heart of the capital, Soho House 40 Greek Street – our first-ever House, which opened back in 1995 – is shaped not only by Founder Nick Jones’s original vision of creating a home away from home for creatives, but also by the vibrant history of the surrounding area of Soho. 

With its Georgian houses, pubs, gay bars, independent stores and an array of eateries, Soho is ever-evolving – much like our original House. Around the corner from 40 Greek Street, you’ll find Soho House 76 Dean Street and Kettner’s, and downstairs the buzzing Cafe Boheme and Cecconi’s Pizza Bar – the perfect spots for a few aperitivos. 40 Greek Street, however, will always be a special destination and part of the area’s history, so step inside.  

The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House
The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House

Greek Street: the heart of Soho
Greek Street runs from Soho Square down to Shaftesbury Avenue, right on the eastern edge of the neighbourhood. First laid out around 1680, the thoroughfare got its name from a Greek church now known as St Mary’s on Charing Cross Road, and was initially developed as a residential area. But the street swiftly acquired a distinctly cosmopolitan character and became home to several upper-class (and, in some cases, notorious) tenants, including Casanova and Josiah Wedgwood. 

As for 40 Greek Street specifically, its most famous resident was the courtesan, Lady Hamilton who began her career in 18th-century London’s demi-monde, before becoming the mistress of a series of wealthy men, culminating in naval hero, Lord Nelson. And when we say famous, we mean famous – she was later played by Vivien Leigh in That Hamilton Woman.

Fast-forward to 1906, and a Met police officer dubbed Greek Street the ‘worst street in the West End of London’; a place where ‘crowds of people gather nightly who are little else than a pest… some of the vilest reptiles in London live there or frequent it.’ 

In the century and more since then, Soho has been a land populated by bohemians, writers, artists, and troublemakers. It was at one time the city’s red-light district, and has long been loved by those belonging to fringe subcultures, fashion rebels from Central St Martins, and the gay and queer nightlife. It’s no accident that this eclectic, electric atmosphere once inspired the very first House. 

The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House
The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House

Cafe Boheme: where Soho House began 
Nick Jones opened 40 Greek Street in 1995, above his restaurant Cafe Boheme. ‘The first House was accidental,’ Jones recalls. ‘Paul Raymond, my landlord, phoned and asked if I would take the floors above. Soho was full of creatives then and I just wanted people to go in, have fun and meet each other. 

‘My regulars at Cafe Boheme helped me create the first committee and we did a hard hat tour in June 1994, with cocktails served from cement mixers. People liked it, and we opened Soho House in January 1995 with 500 members.’

The rooms of the townhouse were accessed via a small door just around the corner from Cafe Boheme, which inspired Jones to turn it into a members’ club for the local creatives who had become the restaurant’s regulars. It was called Soho House because that was what it was: a Georgian house in London’s Soho. The logo reflects the layout of that first space – three floors across three interconnecting houses. 

The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House

Soho House 40 Greek Street today 
The townhouse has Grade II-listed status today and – after closing its doors for a refurb that has still preserved the building’s original charm – reopened on its 23rd birthday in January 2018. 

The classic Soho House sense of hospitality, as well as the interiors and atmosphere that remains the mark all our Houses today, all largely originated here: that feeling of being welcomed into a generous home with fireplaces, comfy chairs, relaxed dining and late-night parties. Here, one could easily find a quiet space to unwind with a book, meet with like-minded creatives for a drink, or take in the extensive art collection. 

The House elegantly merges indoor and outdoor spaces, such as the Morning Room with a terrace on the first floor and the Courtyard Bar on the third floor, which has sliding glass doors that open up in warmer weather. The original Roof Deck on the fourth floor features a retractable glass roof and pergola, so it can be used throughout the year to host a range of food and drink pop-ups – a much-needed escape in the heart of the city. 

The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House
The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House
The secret history of Soho House 40 Greek Street | Soho House

Interiors and art collection 
The House’s original black and white art collection has been rehung on the walls throughout the Yellow, Red and Blue dining rooms that sit inside the Georgian building. The Blue and Yellow Rooms have been extended, while the Red Room now has one big table to host private dinners. 

On the second floor, the new pewter Circle Bar – inspired by the original design – serves drinks until 3am, and is filled with vintage leather sofas and stools. It’s also home to the 40-40-40 art collection, which showcases 40 artists under the age of 40, hung over mirrors. While Soho House’s collection has often acquired works by recent graduates, this one is entirely dedicated to selecting, supporting, acquiring and promoting a younger generation of artists, such as Issy Wood, Holly Hendry and Megan Rooney. 

Renewed by Soho House’s Global Director of Art Kate Bryan in 2018, the site features more than 300 artworks by an international line-up, including focused presentations and site-specific installations, such as the collection titled ‘Walk The Line’, for which we asked 19 established London-based artists to create single-line, continuous drawing based on the famous Paul Klee quote: ‘A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.’ Artists featured are Tracey Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Maggi Hambling, Idris Khan, Conrad Shawcross, Helen Marten, Tacita Dean, Elmgreen & Dragset, and Yinka Shonibare.

The House also incorporates a number of sculptural works, including pieces by Polly Morgan, Julian Wild, Amy Stephens, and a major marble work by Kevin Francis Gray on the first-floor terrace.

Several works are site-specific, such as the large tapestry in the reception stairwell by Annie Morris, and the photo-frescoes in the Soho Room by Walter & Zoniel, which pay homage to long-standing Soho House team members, including Founder Nick Jones.

But for all its history, at its heart Soho House 40 Greek Street is what it’s always been: a place for like-minded people to come together, relax, share inspiration and ideas – and, ultimately, have fun.

Follow Soho House on Instagram for a video on the history of Soho House 40 Greek Street with Vanessa Xuereb, Soho House Chief Membership Officer, who started working there on reception in 1997. 

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