This post originally appeared at Departures.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.
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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luxurious, they lack the charm and personal service of old-style clubs, and having to keep current means they go out of date quickly, like a nightclub.”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.”
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This story was originally published by Departures.
Launching this month at 58 Poland Street, in Soho, is a novel members-club concept for creative types who need studio space and a means to network. Members will have access to three London apartments kitted out with high-tech computer software and studio equipment, a barman at the tap and a takeaway menu with a selection chosen exclusively from top London restaurants located nearby. Also opening in Paris and Milan next year, each apartment will act as gallery space for emerging talent. Some landlord! London membership: $950 per year; global membership: $1,400 per year; apartment58.com.
The Arts Club is enjoying something of a revival with A-listers, royals and rock stars, who waltz in and out from dawn till dusk. Prince Harry, David Beckham and Katherine Jenkins gave it a recent thumbs-up, partying there until 3 a.m. With the team behind the revamp--including owners Arjun Waney of Zuma, Roka and La Petite Maison fame; property investor Gary Landesberg; and designer David D'Almada--and support by Gwyneth Paltrow and Stella McCartney, it's little wonder the light fixtures cost $32,000 and the walls are made of cashmere. $1,600 per year; theartsclub.co.uk.
With its shabby-chic furniture, organic tea and coffee, glass bottles of water and magazine selection, the B.Hive feels more like the waiting room of a swish beauty salon than the members lounge of a Covent Garden business club. There's nothing masculine about this womens-only spot, started by PR guru Lynne Franks, whose words of inspiration are scrawled on the walls in gold lettering. Open by day, it serves as a networking place for freelance women. $48 per month; bhive.co.
This exclusive spot, which presides over one of the most A-list restaurants in theatre land, has three floors, accessed by a beautiful glass elevator. Membership is as exclusive as it gets, which is no surprise when you're likely to rub shoulders with Kate Moss (who famously climbed onto the piano one night to sing). The floors, adorned with art by Andy Warhol and Marc Quinn, include a piano bar, a drawing room with a lounge-y feel and a cocktail bar with heated seats on its smoking terrace.Membership fee undisclosed; the-ivyclub.co.uk.
What started in the 1980s as an antidote to the stuffier men's clubs of St. James still holds an air of rebellious edge today. The dark yet atmospheric Dean Street club entertains the best of the arts and media crowd. Tracy Emin is often found in the bar making a speech; Mr. Nice's Howard Marks occasionally pops in for dinner; and actors and musicians alike are frequently seen stumbling out--and in. The restaurant's quality is consistently high, and prices are reasonable. $1,100 per year; overseas membership: $785 per year; thegrouchoclub.com.
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