According to legend Stephen Fry introduced one of the key rules of the Groucho club: "Any deal done after 7pm will be deemed null and void." Thankfully it appears the new owners, Artfarm, the hospitality company behind Hauser & Wirth, have conducted all of their business before cocktail hour.
After months of rumours, today it was announced that Artfarm have bought the louche London hangout The Groucho for an estimated £40m. Ewan Venters, the former chief executive of Fortnum & Mason, is behind the purchase. “We’re deeply fond of the Groucho Club,” says Venters. “It’s famed for being a hub for creatives. We also love the genesis, that it was founded out of a desire for women to have somewhere they could go to meet like-minded people, in a city that was dominated by men’s clubs.”
Naturally members have been concerned about what the change of ownership will mean. “It’s been the membership’s desire to see the club go international,” Venters told the Guardian. “Though no decision has been made at this point, we are an international business with experience operating in Asia, America, Europe and the UK. It would be obvious that in our thinking, we would be looking to see whether the Groucho Club could expand in the future.” It's clear that to remain relevant a younger membership needs to be encouraged, particularly given the increasing allure of Soho House and the flamboyant success of Annabel's.
Established by subscription in 1985, when a group of 15 agents, authors and publishers asked friends to contribute £500 towards the cost of refurbishing an old Italian restaurant at 45 Dean Street - it attracted the most exciting YBAs, Britpop surivors and Soho legends and so much more. As Fleet Street broke apart, it offered journalists the chance to feel like rockstars (as well as partying with actual rock stars, ranging from Bono to Blur's Alex James). It was a phone free environment where bad behaviour was positively encouraged - particularly if it was Damien Hirst putting his £20,000 Turner prize winnings behind the bar.
The priceless artwork - featuring pieces from Francis Bacon, a piano by Peter Blake, neon from Tracey Emin and much more - will remain and one senses that this could future proof the club. Nick Hurrell, chair of the Groucho Club, praised Arfarm. “Their mix of cultural engagement, pedigree in art and excellence in hospitality sits very well with the particular spirit of a members club that has been an important part of London’s cultural life for many years,” he added. “To our 5,000 members around the world, I’d say that the future has never looked brighter.”