Private-members clubs, or “gentlemen’s clubs,” as theywere first called, have been around in London since the 18th century, back thenreplacing coffeehouses that accommodated aristocrats and politicians. St.James, just off Piccadilly, played host to the first of these—White’s, Brooks’sand Boodles—to which memberships are still highly coveted. Although Boodlesrelaxed its men-only-members policy 30 years ago and Brooks’s now admits femaleguests, White’s has yet to admit a woman in its 300-year existence, except forthe 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 staffknowing 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 atsports fans wanting to indulge their passion and surround themselves withlike-minded folk—with whom to dine and drink. University clubs like The Oxfordand 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 hasbeen popping up, with the goal of pleasing everyone by providingaccommodations, sports facilities, spas, cinemas, restaurants, bars andnightclubs—alongside loose membership criteria. But was this the right way togo? One member of Soho House says, “Although luxurious, they lack the charm andpersonal service of old-style clubs, and having to keep current means they goout of date quickly, like a nightclub.”
While great food, a lively bar and a decent mani-pedishouldn’t be knocked, is it preferable to find an exclusive place with personalservice, the feel of home and people who share a common interest? One member ofWhite’s says, “It’s difficult to get membership, the club staff areoutstanding, it’s a comfortable place to read the paper or meet friends and no wivesare allowed. I can’t think of why I don’t go there all the time.”