Welcome to clubland. In short, the upper crust of the 18th century would probably feel right at home.
The gentlemen's clubs of london
But these were always more than places to tell dirty jokes in frock coats while club back a brandy or two: membership was a way to exert one's ample social and economic capital. While a few of the surviving clubs have relaxed their terms london membership, allowing women and well-heeled commoners to their enclaves of old gentleman glamour, they nevertheless maintain a mahogany veneer of exclusivity.
As well as stumping up often eye-watering membership fees, hopefuls must satisfy all sorts of requirements — including simply waiting until a hefty of existing members have kicked the bucket — before they can enter the fold. Who would have thought that a hot chocolate emporium founded by an Italian immigrant in would eventually become the drinking den of choice for two future kings? Good luck getting behind its Grade I listed doors, though — you must win the support of 36 members in order to be granted membership, and the waiting list is supposedly years long.
White’s: the club that’s fit for a prince
Women are permitted as guests only, a policy that led former Prime Minister David Cameron to tear up his membership back in Located on the outskirts of clubland in the West End, Garrick Club is one for the thespians.
When Charles Dickens published remarks made by William Makepeace Thackeray there — a cardinal sin in clubland, apparently — a bitter feud that became known as the Garrick Affair ensued between these two distinguished members. Since then, the likes of T. Eliot, Laurence Olivier and Rex Harrison have walked its jewel-toned halls. After the enactment of The Reform Actthe Whigs — the political party that spearheaded this package of electoral reforms — wanted a new hub for discussing radical ideas.
And boy, did architect Charles Barry deliver. The result is an Italian palazzo-style clubhouse complete with Corinthian columns, flamboyant decor, and a glass ceiling, which was proverbially smashed in when The Reform became one of the first clubs of its kind to admit women. The club has long ceased to have any political function, and nowadays claims to attract members from all sorts of backgrounds.
That said, its members list includes a fair few baronesses and knights, and Sir David Attenborough.
Her gold statue looms over the portico of the ridiculously palatial Athenaeum clubhouse on Pall Mall. Some 80, works are housed floor-to-ceiling across three spectacular libraries. But do you like it enough to a club dedicated solely to a shared love of beef?
There have been many beefsteak clubs since the s but the best-known is the Sublime Society of the Beefsteaks. Because nothing says freedom like chowing down on a prime cut of dead cow, apparently.
The original Society folded inbut a successor, called simply The Beefsteak Club popped up the same year. It was at this resurrected club that Dracula author Bram Stoker purportedly first heard the tale of Vlad the Impaler The anachronistic quirks that characterise today's surviving gentleman's clubs are, it seems, integral to their enduring appeal.
But in recent decades a new breed of private member's clubs that cater to more contemporary values have cropped up. Take the Soho House clubs for instance, where suits are banned and so-called 'creative souls' — of any gender — are favoured over 'wealth and status'. And notably saw the launch of The Allbrighta women-only member's club, hailed as a hub for empowerment for female entrepreneurs that sticks two fingers up at the old boy's network.
Perhaps that's asking too much, though. Exclusivity is what defines a member's club, after all.
The boundaries of clubland may have become blurry, but for better or worse, its core function — to communicate wealth and prestige — remains firmly intact. A version of this article appears in Londonist Drinksour book about pubs, bars and the history of drinking in the capital.
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Time, gentlemen: when will the last all-male clubs admit women?
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