Club rules: All hail the fashionable member’s club
The wine library at 67 Pall Mall.
2017, it seems, is the year in which it has become almost impossibly fashionable to join a member’s club. But not any old member’s club. The London club scene is undergoing something of a makeover at the moment, with a new wave of contemporary openings challenging the stuffy status quo. Of course, Soho House group is the go-to option for many, particularly with the coming of The NED, a vast club-come-hotel that’s set to open in the former headquarters of the Midland Bank (more on that in our launch issue, out March 22nd), but following in the NED’s wake, is a timely renaissance of other informal member’s clubs.
Take The Devonshire Club for example, a recent development that opened last year. The club compromises a former East India Company storage warehouse and a sizeable Georgian townhouse – both totally transformed – blending West End glamour with East End utility. The Club describes itself as ‘unashamedly high-end’, with 68 bedrooms and suites for members, as well as a 120 seat brasserie, champagne bar and garden room (with private gardens attached). Add to that a library, drawing room and second cocktail bar and you start to get a sense of the Devonshire’s scale. Even so, the club maintains that ‘relaxed luxury’ is central to its philosophy. This is not a space for grey chalk-striped establishmentarians to sit with the broadsheets of a Tuesday afternoon, but a hub for dynamic, young and ambitious professionals in search of a fundamentally fresher environment.
The bar at The South Kensington Club.
Across town, much the same can be said of The South Kensington Club. Modelled as a country club rather than an urban space, it retains a distinctly weekend-friendly character; with “mixed doubles, a sauna and a stiff martini” the basis of an ideal afternoon’s entertainment. It seems that wellness facilities are central to many of these new clubs, reflecting changes in the lifestyle of the health-conscious metropolitan elite. The ‘SKC’ offers members three studio spaces, with yoga, hot yoga, pilates, barre, hot barre, cardio, boxing and high-energy dance classes, as well as an impressive private training programme. There’s also a bathhouse, offering Banyas and Hammams, as well as private Banya suites complete with plunge pools. It’s quite a different choice to that of smoking room or drawing room.
Not that all such new clubs are quite as mellow. On the Old Brompton Road sits Albert’s, which opened last autumn and offers a vibrant, quixotic ‘dinner and dance experience’ for those who’ve signed up. Focused on fine dining, the club’s restaurant is naturally excellent, but its the plush decor which really sells an evening at Albert’s. Channeling a sense of Sloaney sophistication, if the royal blue leather chesterfields, leopard skin rugs and florid Colefax & Fowler wallpaper doesn’t get you in the mood for an umbrella-topped cocktail or two, nothing will. It’s a similar story in Morton’s, a long-established Mayfair haunt located in prime position on Berkeley Square. Though ostensibly a retreat, the club is enjoyably lively of an evening, largely thanks to its louche basement nightclub, which opened in 2012 and offers “a lavish home away from home” in which to while away an evening.
Morton's bar on Berkeley Square.
Other clubs are moving the concept of a club away from the notion of a private residence entirely. For example, 67 Pall Mall was founded in 2015 solely with a view to offering a space for connoisseurs to enjoy fine wine. The club lives across three floors, including several different lounge rooms, a wine library and cellars, in an atmosphere that is refined but warm and relaxed. Then there’s Black’s, a discreet Hogarthian drinking den located on Soho’s Dean Street – the membership requirements for which are that you must be both ‘extremely interested and interesting’. The club offers a similarly informal aesthetic, with an emphasis on catering to art lovers (exhibitions and talks are a weekly occurrence) and the cocktail bar’s menu is both comprehensive and inventive.
In the wake of such a revolution, the old establishment’s corniced ceilings, mullioned windows and black three-hundred year old oil paintings seem more removed from reality than ever before. It goes without saying that membership to each of these contemporary clubs isn’t cheap, but when it comes to parting with your hard earned cash, the choice between a club where you’re discouraged from coughing too loudly into your papers, or a space where you can relax in your shirtsleeves with a Martini and a good book, its easy to see why this new generation of clubs are selling themselves.