Janet Harmer checks out how the £200m project will create a unique hospitality offering for the Square Mile.
Nick Jones never intended to open a hotel in the City of London. The capital's financial centre is not a typical location for an outpost of Soho House & Co, the company founded by Jones 22 years ago and renowned for attracting guests and members from the media and entertainment industries.
However, the moment he walked into the former Sir Edwin Lutyens-designed Midland Bank building on Poultry, just a minute's walk from the Bank of England, Jones was bowled over by what he saw.
"The banking floor was jaw-droppingly beautiful," he recalls. "I clambered up on the roof, with its views over St Paul's, and immediately saw the huge potential the property offered as a hotel and collection of restaurants."
Jones, named by The Caterer as the 2015 Hotelier of the Year, had been tipped off about the building by the landlord of Little House, one of 18 members' clubs owned and operated by Soho House & Co worldwide. "I wasn't particularly keen to go along, but I didn't want to appear rude,"he recalls.
It proved to be a fortuitous visit, leading to the opening five years later of the Ned, unquestionably one of London's most ambitious hotel launches for some time. Featuring 252 bedrooms, nine restaurants, two swimming pools – one on the rooftop and one in the basement – a spa, members' club and much more, the Ned is a beautiful, multifaceted beast, which required the help of a partner to create.
After speaking to Ron Burkle, the American investor who acquired a 60% stake in Soho House & Co in 2012, Jones met with Andrew Zobler, the founder and chief executive of Sydell Group. Burkle is also the main financial backer of Sydell Group, a company that has experience of grand renovation projects through the opening of six hotels in the US during the past five years.
"That was the start of our collaboration and it's been fantastic,"enthuses Jones. "We love each other more than we did at the beginning, which is unusual when you're involved in a project of this scale."
While Soho House & Co has extensive experience of developing a variety of hospitality businesses – as well as the members' clubs (12 of which feature bedrooms and welcome non-members), it has also created 16 restaurant brands – nothing comes close to the scale of the Ned, which covers nearly 30,000 square metres.
Large in scale and delivery
"Working with Andrew has been a great education,"says Jones. "I've learned so much about how to manage a project of great complexity, whether it has been how to install elevators that work for the 21st century within a 1920s building or create eight restaurants within the old banking hall. Everything about the hotel is large in scale and delivery."
For Zobler, a lawyer turned hotel developer, the attraction of the Ned was immediately apparent. "I love old buildings with provenance,"he says. "As well as being a grand historical building, the Ned has many subtle touches. It is an extraordinary property that I fell in love with. Our job was to help Soho House best use the space – something other developers had not been able to work out."
Zobler's widespread experience has included turning an early 20th century former office building into the 168-bedroom NoMad in New York and creating the 388-bedroom the Line within a 1960s brutalist building in Los Angeles. However, the Ned, named after Lutyens' nickname, was by far the largest project he has been involved with so far.
"The trick in a building of this size is to make a large space appear intimate and personal. Both Nick and I share the same philosophy of wanting to create intimate hotels with clubby spaces that delight the guests."
The partnership has been highly complementary, with Soho House injecting its renowned creative flair and Sydell providing the skillset of the big developer who is renowned for completing projects on time and on budget.
"To do that for a project of the size of the Ned, where we are opening within two months of our original deadline and where the quality is at the very highest level, is phenomenal,"says Zobler.
Throughout the process, Zobler has pushed and probed Jones to ensure he and his team made the most of the building, encouraging him to look to its banking heritage for design cues. Hence, much use has been made of the banking hall's original walnut-panelled counters, used by tellers, repurposed as bar counters and dividers between the different restaurants. Once bustling with bank customers, the space will now buzz with some 850 restaurant customers at any one time. Meanwhile, in the basement, the bank vaults feature a lounge bar, where more than 3,000 original stainless steel, engraved safety deposit boxes, which once stored gold bullion deposits of £335m (£15b in today's money) and two metre-wide door have been retained.
The design of the Ned is Soho House through and through, but with a more grown-up, less shabby chic focus than anything it has previously undertaken. The in-house design team of Adam Geco, Alice Lund and Rebecca King has led the process of creating a hotel that is inspired by the faded glamour of a transatlantic ocean liner during the 1930s, the era in which Lutyens' building originally opened.
The bedrooms are designed to represent the hierarchy of a 1930s bank, with a cosy room featuring floral wallpaper indicating the sort of place a mail clerk might live (from £250 per night). The medium rooms (from £298), which are full of Art Deco touches, with a walnut king-size bed and floral glass chandelier, may have accommodated a junior banker. Meanwhile, the large rooms (from £383), where a director may have lived, feature a super king-size four-poster bed and a mahogany enclosed bath in the bedroom, inspired by Lord Bute's tub at Cardiff Castle.
Mahogany enclosed bath in one of the bedrooms at the NedAt one end of the bedroom scale are the crash pads – 15 of them – which under-30s can book for £150. At 17-19 square metres, they offer much more than the smallest rooms available in many a budget hotel at a similar price point in the capital, and include a marble mosaic bathroom with a walk-in rainforest shower and the full range of Cowshed products.
The top-priced room is the Lutyens Suite, which, when compared with the most expensive suites in London's luxury hotels, is competitively priced at a starting rate of £1,998. Located on the seventh floor, the suite offers a 100 square metre space across two bedrooms, a lounge with an eight-seat corner sofa, bar and dining space.
It is, however, the banking hall, with its 92 green verdite marble columns and the previously mentioned walnut counters, which creates the biggest wow factor of the project. Together with the fourth and fifth floors, the ground floor is Grade I-listed and therefore little could be done to alter its key features. English Heritage, says Jones, has been very realistic in enabling the building to be made practical for today's world, while ensuring its preservation.
"We've done lots of individual restaurants before, but creating eight on one floor is another matter altogether,"explains Jones. "Until it is fully operational, I'm not sure if we've pulled it off."
As well as making it look stunning, the biggest challenge has been ensuring that it works practically. To ensure it does, much role-play was undertaken to ensure how, for instance, a glass was going to get to a table, be removed after use, washed and returned.
Gareth Banner, the managing director of the Ned, who was appointed from his former general manager role at the Renaissance St Pancras hotel, London, and is the person ultimately responsible for the hotel on a day-to-day basis, explains the logistics. "We have a central production kitchen, which feeds into all the restaurants, as well as a specific kitchen for each restaurant,"he says.
"The restaurants will all be run independently with their own head chef, restaurant manager and team, while behind the scenes there will be a lot of shared services – such as purchasing – for synergy and efficiencies."
A key departure for a UK hotel will be the extent that entertainment plays within the restaurant space, creating a real sense of occasion. "It's not uncommon to go to a hotel and find a piano being played from 7pm onwards,"says Banner. "Here we have an entire entertainment and production team, headed by Dom Chung, who has put together a programme of performances that will kick off from mid-afternoon, Monday to Friday, or during brunch at the weekends.
"There will be a mix of burlesque, choirs, orchestras – we've even created our own Ned band – which will all perform on a stage at the heart of the banking hall. The acts will be predominately music-led, but not exclusively. There will also be some performing arts and variety. It is not often that a hotelier has a seven-figure budget for entertainment."
Banner says the experience will take dining room entertainment to "a whole new level", but ensures that the performances will not compete with the attention of guests who want a quieter evening. "There will be some tables which will be hidden and will only hear the music in the background,"he says.
Staffing the Ned with a team of 800 is what has kept Banner awake at night more than anything else since his appointment. The process, however, has been on track, with many individuals being recruited directly from Europe, despite the uncertainty of what Brexit will mean in the long-term with regard to employing staff from within the EU. Teams of recruiters have appointed locally in Rome and Barcelona through the offer of attractive packages, rather than wait for individuals to come to the UK and for the Ned to then compete with another 10 or so businesses for their services.
"It is a worry and a concern for everyone in our industry how the government is going to deal with the immigration situation,"says Jones. "Over 75% of the people who work for Soho House in the UK weren't born in this country. I'm sure the government will consider a way around it – they are going to have to."
Banner explains that finding people has not been the difficulty, but seeking out recruits who are going to be successful has been more tricky. "There is nothing shy and retiring about the Ned; therefore, for it to feel alive it needs to be busy and so the reality is that there will be no gentle introduction for staff. They have to have stamina, resolve and experience, as well as a lovely attitude – that is what has been challenging to find."
While it is expected that the Ned will attract an enormous amount of attention from its opening, Jones is under no illusions that for it to be successful it will have to see guests and customers returning on a regular basis.
"The Ned is for everyone and I really hope that people find there is something here for them, whether it is a pizza at Cecconi's, a baguette at Café Sou, or much more. Not only will it appeal to people who live and work in London, but I can also see it as somewhere people will come in to from all over the home counties and suburbs on a Sunday, not only to eat and drink, but also to have a massage or a haircut. The entertainment will also make it a destination."
Membership of the Ned, which is separate from that operated by Soho House, is effectively full, with 1,500 people signed up at a founder membership fee of £2,500 (£1,500 for under-30s). The mix of members is said to cover a wide age range, be split equally between genders, and include a cross-section of industries, including finance, technology and media.
With Soho House having been replicated many times across the globe, could the Ned now be the start of a new brand? Jones believes it could.
"We would need to find a brilliant building first, but I think big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Tokyo could certainly take Ned's brother or sister,"says Jones, whose hands are currently full with the ongoing expansion of Soho House. Later this year will see Soho House launch in Brooklyn, New York, and Mumbai; with 2018 openings due to take place in London in the former BBC TV Centre in White City and in Greek Street, Soho. Meanwhile, other future international openings have been earmarked for Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.
Zobler is more cautious about the possibility of a second Ned, but is thrilled to have had the experience of working with Jones, who he describes as "the ideal partner". Having now dipped his toe in London, he is on the verge of announcing the expansion of Sydell's NoMad brand to the capital, with the development of a 100-bedroom hotel in a yet-to-be-disclosed location.
The City may not have been on Jones's hit list as a location to develop a hotel, but now he is excited to be opening there. "At one time the City was regarded as being in the east of London, but now I think it is very much in the centre of what is happening,"he says.
Having evolved from somewhere wine bars used to close at 8pm just 10 years ago to somewhere that is about to witness the opening of a 24-hour mega entertainment operation, the existence of the Ned is proof indeed that the City is set to become a serious leisure destination as much as a work one.
27-35 Poultry, London EC2R 8AJ
020 3828 2000
Owner Soho House & Co and Sydell Group
Chief executive, Soho House & Co Nick Jones
Chief executive, Sydell Group Andrew Zobler
Managing director Gareth Banner
Executive chef (production), Zobler's, Kaia, Café Sou Ewart Wardhaugh
Executive chef, Millie's, Lutyens Grill, Nickel Bar Luke Rayment
Executive chef, Cecconi's, Malibu Kitchen, Ned's Club Upstairs, the Vault Michele Nargi
Cecconi's Established Soho House brand, with sister restaurants in Mayfair, Berlin, Istanbul, Miami Beach and West Hollywood
Café Sou Parisian-inspired outlet, serving classic French dishes
Zobler's New York-style Jewish deli offering smoked fish and Rueben sandwiches, with a dessert counter
Millie's Lounge British brasserie with a 24-hour menu
Malibu Kitchen Californian-inspired restaurant using Mediterranean ingredients, with a strong focus on nutrition
The Nickel Bar Traditional American diner with an all-day menu
Kaia Asia-Pacific-inspired restaurant serving healthy food, such as raw fish salads
Lutyens Grill American steakhouse featuring trolley and guéridon service for members and hotel guests
Private events Six banqueting rooms and two terraces. Includes the Tapestry Room, featuring the largest tapestry in England when installed in 1932.
Spa Eight treatment rooms, beauty parlour, Cheeky nail bar and Ned's barbershop
Ned's Club Open to members and hotel guests. Incorporates Ned's Club Upstairs, which is located on the rooftop with a pool, restaurant and two bars in the Princes Street and Poultry Domes. The basement will house the Vault bar and lounge, Ned's Active (gym, boxing gym, Pilates and yoga studio and spinning studio) and Ned's Club Relax (20m swimming pool, hammam, sauna and steam room).