Monday, August 10, 2009

A Brief Guide to London's Clubland (Part I)

In looking around the internet there is a decided dearth of information on the wide world of private members clubs aka gentlemen’s clubs. Now in modern parlance the term gentlemen’s clubs has taken on a negative connotation by being associated with strip clubs and the like. Clubland is the term for the area of Pall Mall and St James in Mayfair central London. These clubs were set up for the English aristocracy and the upper classes. The first of these clubs was White’s was established 1693, in the following century numerous other clubs sprung up around the city. While clubs spread the length and breadth of the empire, from Scotland to America to India, London has always been the heart of the clubbing world.

Today these clubs still exist and established gentlemen and young up and comers of the right set still seek to join these clubs today. The process and requirements for joining varies from club to club, however in general a prospective member is required to have two members of the club to propose them and second them for membership. In essence they are there to speak to the character of a prospective member and ensure that they are a good chap and a good fit for the club in question. Now for a neophyte navigating Clubland for the first time this can be confusing and perhaps a little intimidating. Below I have compiled a list of the clubs of London, their respective character, and their relative status in the club hierarchy.

Top of the Pyramid

1) White’s:

White’s is the oldest, the grandest, the most prestigious, the most famous of gentlemen’s clubs not just in Britain but anywhere in the world. Many people, including your dutiful author, can find White’s simply too stodgy and simply too staid for a younger gentleman. It is perfect for older gents and its reputation is unparalleled, to put any club besides White’s at the top of this list, would discredit the list. That said, having visited myself on numerous occasions there are other clubs that I prefer,

2) and 3) Boodle’s and Brook’s:

The second and third oldest clubs respectively and interchangeable in terms of prestige, Broodle’s and Brook’s are each in their own right fantastic clubs. For the purposes of this list, Boodle’s is placed ahead due to my own personal preference influenced mainly due to the staff and the fact that napping is still perfectly acceptable upstairs.

Now if you know anything about Clubland than you know all three of the above clubs have lengthy wait-lists (years) and have a more lengthy admittance process compared with other clubs. Hence, we can call these the unquestioned Top of the Pyramid.

The Contenders

The Travelers Club:

The Travelers Club has the unique requirement that any prospective member must have traveled at least 500 miles from London. Beyond that, Travelers is renowned in clubland for its fantastic cuisine. In comparison to others in this category of clubs, Travelers has an older membership and is far more staid. Architecturally, along with Athenaeum it is one of the most impressive clubs in London. Overall a good membership and a striking club.

The Carlton Club:

The Carlton was began in support of the who’s who of the Tory (Conservative) Party. In that vein it has maintained this character through today, counting Conservative Party leader David Cameron as a member and the Rt. Hon. The Baroness Thatcher (former Prime Minister Margret Thatcher) as President. The Carlton still boasts numerous Conservative MPs and numerous up-and-coming young Conservative politician wannabes as members. The Carlton recently narrowly voted to allow female members into the club. The club is known for its wide-range of high quality speakers, political character, and active younger members (35 and under) social group.

The Reform Club

Originally founded in 1836 in support of the 1832 Reform Act and was intended as a centre of radical / liberal thought and became closely tied to the Liberal Party similar to the Carlton. However in recent years it has opened the floodgates of membership and now has over 3500 members and though the club inside is beautiful, it has lost all semblance of character or even recognition amongst its members. If you want a club to impress out of town visitors, the Reform is a good place to start. If on the other hand you prefer a congenial environment and want to get to know your fellow members, you would be best served looking elsewhere.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. This is bosh. A writer pretending to have insight into the gentleman's club culture of Pall Mall and St. James and proffering statements such as "If you want a club to impress out of town visitors, the Reform is a good place to start", or "Beyond that, Travelers is renowned in clubland for its fantastic cuisine", should be dismissed out of hand. This Yankee Sloane has perhaps heard of some of these clubs but, judging from his commentary, it most doubtful that he is on a first-name basis with any of their members.