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Private member clubs in London

Step inside the nu-gen private members’ clubs – where culture, class and cocktails combine

Beef Wellington, stiff sherry, double-breasted suits and royal insignias: for a while it seemed like the London members’ club scene had about as much relevance to the 21st century as telegrams and muskets.

We all know the Groucho Marx quote about being a member of a club (it may only be second in overuse to that Dr. Johnson quote about a man being tired of London) yet the new generation of members’ clubs, although mostly located in the traditional locales of Mayfair and St. James, are ripping up the musty rule books of what a club should be.

12-Hay-Hill-3112 Hay Hill club in Mayfair

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12 Hay Hill is at the forefront of a clutch of new business-orientated members clubs. “Clubs were always traditionally social places where holding a meeting or doing work was considered to be very bad form,” says Hugo Campbell-Davys, founder of Urbanologie and part of the team behind the new club, located in a former bank in the heart of Mayfair. “But at Hay Hill we want to keep that social feel but also allow meetings, mobile phone use and create it in an atmosphere that doesn’t feel like a sterile, corporate hotel lobby.”

12Hay-Hill-312 Hay Hill club in Mayfair

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The impressive use of this huge, airy, light-filled space, split into five separate floors, plus the services of the only members’ club in London to have an in-house Michelin-starred chef in the form of Shaun Rankin, means that clubs such as this, and the just-opened London branch of NeueHouse and Devonshire Square Club (which is launching this summer) are utilising the contemporary notion of both creative and business talents working beyond, or without, the traditional confines of an office.

lounge 0803South Kensington Club

Yet other new generation clubs are specialising in the myriad antidotes to the farragoes of urban life. The South Kensington Club, situated a few minutes’ walk away from the Victoria and Albert Museum, has a focus on wellness, but for people who appreciate a pink gin as much as Reformer Pilates.

avocado-bruschetta-2 0191-1South Kensington Club

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“The model of the old members’ club is now too antiquated – they were often not unisex and weren’t diverse enough in their offering – not least the rules were too strict for people to enjoy as they should!” So says Luca del Bono, one of the founders of the club.

cocktail-bar-closer 0843South Kensington Club

With a gym, fitness classes, Mediterranean restaurant and a bathhouse with Hamam, banya and watsu pool, this is a club that understands the need to combine wellness and fitness with social bonhomie in one beautifully constructed space, replete with seductive lighting, huge sofas and an alluring bar space that puts one in mind of a large, yet demure, house party.

juice-bar 0724Staircase and juice-bar at South Kensington Club

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Yet for the true bon vivant, the new wave of members’ clubs still has a strong contender in the form of 67 Pall Mall, which opened in December with a focus on wine, but without the stuffiness that these kinds of establishments tend to embody.

67-Pall-Mall Davd-Griffen-Photography-Nov-2015-227Cuisine at 67 Pall Mall, photo courtesy of David Griffen Photography

With a 30,000 strong cellar, including 5,000 wines by the glass, this former bank (which lay empty for 15 years) may have retained the wood panelling and parquet flooring of its former life, but the atmosphere – female-friendly, resolutely lacking in pomposity and with a membership process that does away with the ancient traditions of ‘proposing’ and ‘seconding’ – succeeds at redefining what a night in a members’ club with a bottle of claret should be. “It’s about developing an emotional relationship with everyone here that goes beyond the walls of the building,” says club manager Nells Sherry.

Hummous-SelectionHummous Selection at South Kensington Club

Perhaps, were Groucho Marx around now, he may just change his mind about his reticence to join any club that would have him.

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1 South Kensington Club
2 67 Pall Mall
3 12 Hay Hill