Private-members clubs, or “gentlemen’s clubs,” as they
were first called, have been around in London since the 18th century, back then
replacing coffeehouses that accommodated aristocrats and politicians. St.
James, just off Piccadilly, played host to the first of these—White’s, Brooks’s
and Boodles—to which memberships are still highly coveted. Although Boodles
relaxed its men-only-members policy 30 years ago and Brooks’s now admits female
guests, White’s has yet to admit a woman in its 300-year existence, except for
the queen, who was invited once.
While the old-style clubs have carried on, being a kind of home away from home for the aristocracy—with staff
knowing each member by name and pouring cocktails without measures—other London clubs have recently begun to appear with different sets of membership criteria.
The Hurlingham, Queens, RAC and Turf are clubs aimed at
sports fans wanting to indulge their passion and surround themselves with
like-minded folk—with whom to dine and drink. University clubs like The Oxford
and Cambridge and military clubs like the In and Out also serve a purpose,
similar to those with political slants or ones aimed at patrons of the arts,
media, theatre, publishing and music.
More recently, a new type of super-members’ club has
been popping up, with the goal of pleasing everyone by providing
accommodations, sports facilities, spas, cinemas, restaurants, bars and
nightclubs—alongside loose membership criteria. But was this the right way to
go? One member of Soho House says, “Although luxurious, they lack the charm and
personal service of old-style clubs, and having to keep current means they go
out of date quickly, like a nightclub.”
While great food, a lively bar and a decent mani-pedi
shouldn’t be knocked, is it preferable to find an exclusive place with personal
service, the feel of home and people who share a common interest? One member of
White’s says, “It’s difficult to get membership, the club staff are
outstanding, it’s a comfortable place to read the paper or meet friends and no wives
are allowed. I can’t think of why I don’t go there all the time.”