Inside Dumbo House, Brooklyn’s New Castle of Cool

The members-only club might have the most enviable view in the city–for a chosen few

The view from the terrace, close enough to the Brooklyn Bridge to see the tourists go by (Photos courtesy of Soho House)

All right, the pool alone might be worth the cost of membership.

It’s located in the middle of the most enviable summer spot imaginable, surrounded by little cabanas and a crazy view: Brooklyn Bridge to your left, Manhattan Bridge to your right, the whole shining East River down below. How can you not feel on top of the world? You practically are. How can you not become your most creative self? You’re surrounded by others who already are. How can you not want to join Dumbo House? You probably already do.

That’s right, the network of members’ clubs known as Soho House has opened up a new outpost in the heart of Dumbo. The entrance is a discreet elevator with a bronze door in the lobby of Empire Stores. Take it upstairs and you’ll find the club. Club isn’t exactly the right word for it, though. When I was there on a recent morning, it felt more like a co-working space–laptops and coffee cups everywhere.

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Inside Dumbo House, a bustling kitchen prepares breakfast, lunch, and dinner

But the space itself sets it apart from the WeWorks of the world. The same kind of people you might find hunched over laptops in a coffee shop are instead hunched over laptops next to striking purple glassware, soaking up the sun from floor-to-ceiling windows. Everyone’s typing or talking or, presumably, making something. That’s the idea, anyway.

The Houses bill themselves as a club for creative community. Members include photographers, writers, media, journalists, filmmakers. I would give you names but that’d go against their privacy policy. Photos aren’t allowed anywhere in the house either (though that hasn’t stopped some guests from subtly Instagramming from the roof, leaving off the identifiable geotag). Phone calls also aren’t allowed outside of the lobby area.

They don’t create these Houses out of nowhere. The Soho House team drops in a year in advance to survey a city’s creative community and build a network of people who might be interested in joining.

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The interior is painted the exact color of the nearby Manhattan Bridge

The official launch was earlier this month, but Dumbo House kicked off a bit earlier with a group of founding members meant to spread the word. With 20 clubs around the world, and eight in North America, including two in Manhattan in the Meatpacking District and the Lower East Side, the move to Brooklyn wasn’t entirely unexpected. The club, which reportedly has 71,000 members and a waiting list of about 27,000, has ambitious worldwide expansion plans and is considering a public-stock offering to fund it, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Soho House started in London in 1995, the brainchild of founder and CEO Nick Jones, who wanted a space for people in the film and media worlds to mingle. “Soho House is all about a community of like-minded creative soul people and Brooklyn is where so many have moved over the years,” said Jones. “It was a no-brainer. We wanted to make Dumbo House a place where people can come together locally.”

So then the Dumbo House is a vessel of many purposes: utilitarian workspace, chic meeting spot, dinner ’n’ drinks destination, and summer hang by the pool. “There’s a lot of great restaurants and places to hang out in Brooklyn, but Dumbo House is different because it’s not just a restaurant-bar. It’s a place where you can spend the whole day,” said Jones. What is kinda unbelievable is … it actually works. Everyone looks cool against an impossibly beautiful backdrop. Or maybe they already were cool? Maybe that’s why they’re here?

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Nick Jones, founder and CEO, launched the club chain in 1995 in London

The calendar is filled with member events with the overarching idea to learn something and, possibly, meet someone. Art talks are held in the library and yoga sessions up on the roof. There are also discussion groups called We After Work and Table Talks that can lean into the political realm–recent talks in Toronto and Manhattan were about the transgender community and another about prison reform. Members can also host their own events in the space.

There’s so much food you don’t have to leave. Flames dance on the wood-fired grill and multi-colored cauliflowers are displayed on spears and pineapples dangle from the ceiling–food as decor! The general spaces for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are first-come, first-served, with reservations taken in the dining room. But there’s no obligation to order anything, I am assured. You can sit all day drinking tap water. Being a member is enough to get you in the door. But honestly, who could resist the charcoal latte ($8) or the Brooklyn beef tartare with mustard greens and beet chips ($16) or the golden cauliflower “rice” bowl with turmeric, raw broccoli, pickled carrot, and cashew ($12)?

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The club, perched on the top two floors of the Empire Stores building, as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge (Photo by The Bridge)

Dumbo House assimilates nicely into the Brooklyn ecosystem. Everything in the room was carefully curated and designed especially for this location; the menus feature illustrations by a local Dumbo artist. The interior is painted the exact shade of blue of the Manhattan Bridge just off in the distance. And the art collection–every house has one–is curated under an architecture theme, with some of the abstract drawings created by local Brooklyn artists.

For more on the Dumbo scene, read our stories about the nearby club The Wing and the restaurant row on the waterfront. 

So how do you join? Prospective members can apply anytime through the online application, answering two questions about your work history and what you hope to bring to the community. Acceptance is through a “members choose members” policy, and a committee reviews applications every quarter. Judging by the makeup of the crowd, diversity is a top priority. Membership costs $2,100 per year (or $3,200 for access to all the houses). Are you under 27? Congratulations, thanks to your youth, you get a 50% discount.



Or perhaps you can wait for a friend to join and tag along. House members can shepherd in three guests at a time–but just one up to the pool.

“There is always that magical moment in the evening when the sun starts to set and you can watch as the Brooklyn Bridge and city light up,” said Jones. “Sitting on the terrace with a negroni in hand–I don’t think that could ever get old.”

If you do get inside, remember, there’s no Instagramming your beautiful drink, no calling your friends to tell them who you saw in a cabana. Instead you can–or at least should–talk to your fellow creative humans. That’s the idea, anyway.

Kara Cutruzzula is a writer living in Fort Greene. Her articles, essays, and plays can be found here.