The Groucho Club, the private members’ club famed for its bohemian clientele drawn from London’s art and film scene, has been sold to a hospitality venture run by a former Fortnum & Mason’s chief executive in a deal worth about £40mn.
Artfarm said it had purchased the iconic venue, located in London’s Soho district, from a group of investors including Alcuin Capital Partners, a buyout firm that owns coffee chain Caffè Nero.
The deal marks the third time the Groucho has changed ownership in its 37-year history. The club’s new owners hope to increase its 5,000-strong membership by pursuing younger clients, and are also considering international expansion.
Founded in 1985, the venue pitched itself as an antidote to London’s stuffier gentlemen’s clubs, such as the Garrick Club, which still does not accept female members.
The Groucho, which has been owned by successive private equity firms since 2006, has in recent years worked to overhaul its sybaritic reputation. The venue has long been associated with the hedonistic revelry of the Young British Artists, of which Damien Hirst was a part, and London’s media elite.
Artfarm, founded in 2014 by married couple Iwan and Manuela Wirth who own the world-renowned contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth, run eight other venues in England, Scotland and Los Angeles.
The group paid slightly less than £40mn for the club, according to one person familiar with the matter.
Later this year, the company will relaunch The Audley, a 134-year-old public house in London’s Mayfair that was designed by Victorian architect Thomas Verity, who also designed the exterior of Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Nick Hurrell, chair of the Groucho Club, said Artfarm was the “perfect owner” for the members’ club. “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 said.
The venue took its name from a quip from comedian Groucho Marx in which he said he did not want to “belong to any club that would accept me as a member”. Its idiosyncratic rules, which comedian Stephen Fry helped write, include a ban on string vests and on mobile phones in the bar.
The Groucho owns an art collection of about 150 pieces, including works by Francis Bacon, Peter Blake and Tracey Emin.
Ewan Venters, chief executive of Artfarm and a former Fortnum & Mason boss who is a Groucho member himself, said he “[looked] forward to engaging with its membership to create a long-term future for the Groucho that builds on its eclectic appeal and maverick ethos”.
Last year — when trading was restricted due to Covid-19 restrictions — the Groucho booked a £3.4mn loss after tax on a turnover of £5.4mn.
Private members’ clubs have benefited from a rush of cash in recent years, with investors attracted to their secure subscription model. Last year, the owner of Soho House, whose first venue is located just 60 yards from the Groucho, floated on the New York stock exchange.
Membership Collective Group was valued at $1.4bn, as of Wednesday. Soho House has more than 122,000 members across more than 30 clubs worldwide and is adding nine new venues this year alone.