Private members’ clubs aren’t just for old, rich men. There are secret societies of like-minded individuals in London who meet up to exchange ideas and enjoy each other’s company without anyone else judging them. Some of the world’s most famous figures – from Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens to Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde – have been known to frequent private clubs. But what exactly goes on behind those closed doors? Read on to discover What Goes on Inside London’s Most Exclusive Private Members’ Clubs:
The Dining Room
The dining room is usually the most public area of a club, though it isn’t open to the general public. You may be expected to change into something a bit more formal. Some clubs frown on jeans. If you’re not a member, it’s generally easier to access a dining room on a Saturday evening than at other times. The meal on offer is usually a three-course, set-price menu, with a choice of starters, main courses, desserts, and wines. The formal nature of the occasion means that you shouldn’t expect much conversation to take place, though you might make a few acquaintances at your table, it’s unlikely you’ll get to know anyone well enough to follow up the connection.
The bar is the heart of many clubs. You’ll be allowed in if you’re not a member, but you’ll have to drink at the counter, not at a table. Some clubs have more than one bar: one for members and another for non-members. Some days of the week are busier, so if you want to ensure you get a seat, avoid the most popular times. The atmosphere at the bar is usually more relaxed than in the dining room, though there may be a TV showing sports or other newsworthy events. If you’re feeling more sociable, you can start a conversation with whoever is sitting next to you.
The Gaming Rooms
In a few clubs, you may be able to play a game of pool or snooker but this is rare. You’ll commonly find rooms where members play cards, bridge, or backgammon. There’s often an entry fee for playing, some clubs charge a token amount, others charge a percentage of your winnings. If you play for high stakes, you probably don’t want to lose too much money in one evening. Some clubs have a “no gambling” policy or a “no gambling for cash” policy.
Exclusivity and Elitism
There’s a lot of myth and mystique around private members’ clubs, with many people assuming they’re just for rich, older men. Most clubs will let anyone apply to become a member, you may not get in, but you can try. Most clubs have a system whereby you can be put on a waiting list, and once a place becomes vacant, the members vote on whether to accept you or not. Regular members may be reluctant to vote for you if they think you won’t fit in. If there is a waiting list, you may be able to improve your chances by offering a “gift of membership”, such as a donation to the club’s charitable trust.
Benefits of Membership
The most obvious benefit of joining a private members’ club is the access to places you may not otherwise have been able to go, the dining room, the bar, the gaming rooms, the terrace, the library, and the gardens. If you like gardening, you could even discuss with the head gardener at the club whether you can help on the weekend. Other benefits include being able to invite guests and being able to propose new policies, such as changing the menu or adding new sports facilities. These things are unlikely to happen if you’re merely a guest.
You don’t have to be rich or retired to join a private members’ club. All you need is an interest in the arts or sport and, of course, the cash to pay the membership fee. If you want to meet like minded people who might be able to help you in various ways, finding a job, introducing you to people who can help with your career, or just introducing you to new friends, then membership in a club could be for you.