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The Most Exclusive Private Clubs In London

Reform ClubThe Reform Club,

Photo: Public Domain

While New York may have have it’s fair share of private member’s clubs, it’ll always come second to the true home of member’s clubs, London, where the exclusive clubs are traditionally referred to as gentlemen’s clubs.These clubs were formed in the late 17th century for members of the aristocracy. As Britain’s middle classes  became richer, they too wanted their own clubs.

Slowly West London became saturated with clubs, and the area around St. James is still referred to as “Clubland”.

The clubs were a place for “gentlemen” to get away from their wives and relax (and, crucially, get a drink after last orders had been called at the non-gentleman’s public houses and bars).

These days, many of the clubs are cosmopolitan affairs, courting women members and seeking creative members for an edgy atmosphere. In clubs like Soho House or Home House, the stiff upper lips of the aristocracy have been replaced by the designer jeans of creative directors.

Here’s our pick of the clubs, with examples of old school or new school, and the newer school included.

Annabel's

Founded by zoo-owner and alleged far-right plotter John Aspinall in 1963 and named after his first wife, Annabel's has long catered to the glitziest guests London can provide, including Kate Moss, Prince Charles, and even Richard Nixon.

These days the club is often frequented by the hedge funders in Mayfair, and charges up to £750 ($1200) a year for membership. Formal dress is required.

Is the club past it? It depends on who you ask. We particularly enjoyed this description from The Independent in 2005:

'To detractors, it's a joint where Middle East meets Middle Age, a stuffy, fading establishment that resembles a branch of Berni Inn with the lights turned down. To fans, it is - and always has been - the sine qua non of society hedonism.'

The Arts Club

Also in Mayfair is The Arts Club, situated on Dover Street and currently being renovated (it'll open again August 2011).

The club was founded in 1863 as a place for London's art elite to meet, and can count Dickens, Kipling and Monet amongst its prestigious membership. These days the membership has broadened significantly, with members reportedly including Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood and Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall.

Boodle's

Founded by Lord Shelburne in 1762 (roughly 20 years before he became Prime Minister), Boodle's is one of London's oldest clubs.

Winston Churchill became a member after World War 2, and other members have included economist Adam Smith and Ian Fleming, who set a scene in one of his James Bond novels in the club.

The club does not allow women members or guests.

Eight Club

Opened in the City of London in 2006, the Eight Clubs (there are two in the area) are designed to provide a stylish for the workers of London's financial district to relax, have fun, and even work.

Members have to swipe their exclusive cards across a biometric reader to be permitted access.

Membership costs £800 ($1290) a year, and members are allowed three guests at a time.

The Groucho Club

The Groucho Club was probably the club that best summed up the new, debauched face of gentlemen's clubs after their rebirth in the 1990s.

It opened in 1985 and aimed to provide a non-stuffy place for members of the media and celebrities to relax, eat, and drink. And that they do, especially the latter.

As chef Anthony Bourdain told The Independent in 2005 'one of the things I really appreciate is that at the Groucho there's always someone behaving even worse than me.'

The club was named after Groucho Marx's famous quip, 'I don't want to belong to any club that will have me as a member.'

Home House

Taking up three Georgian townhouses in the historic area of Portman Square, Home House may be the most tasteful choice for London's media elite -- less rowdy than The Groucho and less ubiquitous that the Soho House group.

Home House was founded in 1999 and gained a reputation for its membership of the dotcom-boom crowd.

Zaha Hadid helped create the club's incredible reception and bar.

The Hospital Club

Located in a former 18th century maternity hospital for 'the distressed poor' ('only allowed married women allowed'), The Hospital was created as television studios before adding a club for members of the creative industries.

The club costs 650 pounds ($1048) a year. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was involved in its founding.

One Alfred Place

Quo Vadis

Owned by renowned London restaurateurs Sam and Eddie Hart, Quo Vadis is a restaurant and club located in a Soho building once home to Karl Marx.

The Reform Club

Like other Victorian-era clubs, The Reform Club is more of a place for serious business than a celebrity hang out. Like many of these clubs, The Reform Club was opened for political reasons in 1836, appealing to prominent Whigs and Liberals.

In Jules Vernes 'Around The World in 80 Days' Philleas Fogg is a member of the club and the story begins and finishes there. Membership costs £1,344 ($2,168) a year.

The Soho House Group

The original Soho House was founded in 1995 for members of the film and media industries.

Since then the empire has expanded far past its original Soho building, moving into locations in Shoreditch, Chiswick, Somerset, and even Berlin, LA, Miami and New York.

For some guests the expansion has been too much and the club has lost its feeling of exclusivity. That may be true, but the wonders of Shoreditch House's rooftop pool are hard to argue with.

Membership costs £700 for Shoreditch House or £1200 for every house.

Tramps

Another of the members clubs that gained notoriety in the 60s, Tramps was a frequent haunt for the rock and roll bands of the era.

The club's connection to the era is so strong that when the club's founder wrote a book about the club ('Tramp's Gold'), Michael Caine provided the foreword.

Sure, it may not be so swinging these days, but if you go you might get a glimpse of Shirley Bassey.

White's

Perhaps the oldest club (it is said to have began as a chocolate house in 1693), White's was seen as the most exclusive of the first generation of clubs.

While the club become something of a gambling den in the 19th century, it's regained it's old-school reputation (until recently PM David Cameron was a member). According to the Evening Standard, the waiting list was 7 years in 2009.

Now check out New York's club scene...

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