When Nick Jones, the founder of Soho House, the chain of swank private member clubs, began plotting his invasion of Hong Kong more than a decade ago, he never could have predicted how bad the timing of its actual debut would be. The city, a former colony of the British Crown, was home to a booming economy, and a thriving urban creative elite — the type to which the London-based club has long catered. Meanwhile, the 50-year “one country, two systems” deal under which Great Britain had transferred sovereignty back to China wasn’t set to expire until 2047.
By the time Jones and his team were putting the finishing touches on their gleaming new outpost — at 120,000 square feet, the largest in the company’s portfolio, and its first in East Asia — in the summer of 2019, the situation looked a little more complicated. A proposed new extradition law had sparked a pro-democracy movement. Mass demonstrations erupted on a weekly basis, with police responding in force and tear gas hanging in the air. Demonstrators stormed the city’s Legislative Council.
Meanwhile, workers were installing the new Soho House’s karaoke stage and boxing ring. They filled the swimming pool, the burbling centerpiece of the club’s solarium-like 30th floor, stocked the swim-up bar with plenty of reposado tequila (key ingredient in the club’s signature cocktail, the picante), and dangled a mirrored ball from the ceiling.
Jones, a ruddy, affable 57-year-old, seemed characteristically unruffled. In a September 2019 interview with WWD, he noted that his Istanbul club, which occupies the former U.S. consulate, had opened shortly before the 2016 coup attempt.
Within a month of that article, the coronavirus was likely already circulating in central China. Jones had planned a mid-February visit to check on the progress, but as the trip approached, it became clear that the new virus had the makings of a global…