The Kings Of London’s Members’ Clubs

Link Copied


The Kings Of London’s Members’ Clubs

Words by Mr Alfred Tong | Photography by Ms Linda Brownlee | Styling by Ms Otter Hatchett

6 December 2018

We step into the city’s most exclusive establishments and meet the men who make them happen.

The word “clubbable”, meaning to be sociable and friendly and suitable for membership of a club, is a singularly English phrase. London, after all, is the birthplace of the private members’ club, but there’s a little more to it than that. Just being friendly and sociable has never been enough to gain entry through the portals at these houses of privilege.

Clubs, like everything else, are about status. The status of belonging to the in-crowd, the smart set. A good members’ club is where everybody knows your name. And that’s nice, but what’s really great is to be able to look around your club and say to yourself, “Gosh, aren’t we all splendid?” Therein lies the real appeal of clubland.

It used to be enough to be posh and rich, but no more. How clubbability is defined today is down to the individual establishment, and they are now many and various, catering to a thousand different tastes. With this change has come a certain confusion regarding the dress code. A suit used to give you the run of clubland, but now it’s all about the type of suit or, indeed, no suit at all. Words such as “creative” and “non-corporate” have emerged on club dress codes, while some of the grandest Mayfair establishments now allow sneakers. Quelle horreur!

Here, then, are the men to know from London’s best clubs, styled in the latest eveningwear looks, to explain what life beyond the signing-in book is really like, what to wear and how to get a membership in the first place.

Mr Jeff Connon, 44, general manager, Groucho Club

The Groucho Club opened on Dean Street, in Soho in 1985, founded by a group of publishers and literary agents as an alternative to the stuffy gentlemen’s clubs of Mayfair. It has since developed a reputation for hell-raising and debauchery – almost everyone of note in London has their own “Groucho story”.

How did you become the general manager of the Groucho?

I studied architecture in Sydney and I was also a semi-pro cricketer for a while in Northampton. I ended up working at the bar next door to the Groucho, which shut down, and so I walked in to ask for a job. After a game of snooker, I bumped into Stephen Fry, and have been here for the past 15 years.

What does your job involve?

Apart from the day-to-day running of the club, last night I had the pleasure of presenting The Groucho Club Maverick Award to Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, authors of Slay In Your Lane, who received £10,000, a Gavin Turk sculpture and a lifetime membership to the Groucho.

Who is the typical Groucho Club member?

Our members are people at the top of their industry within a creative field, or are on their way up. A key part of our DNA is that you can sit at the bar at any time and strike up an interesting conversation with the person sat next to you. That’s what the club was about when we first opened in 1985 and that’s still true today.

Why does the Groucho Club not have a dress code?

Well, actually there is one that Stephen Fry insists on, which is, “no string vests”. I am generally uncomfortable with the idea of dress codes. We want our members to be comfortable with themselves and not be judged by how they look. There’s no VIP section and we don’t insist that you dress up.

What do you wear for the job?

I get suits made for me by Spencer Hart, which has really given me an appreciation for lovely suits, but often I am in jeans and a blazer. In cricket, getting ready before you go out to bat is called “padding up”. It’s about getting ready to perform, and that’s how I feel about getting dressed for my job now.

Mr Jay Goldsmith, 24, under-27s membership manager, Soho House (West London)

White City House is the latest London outpost of the Soho House Group, which started life as a single club on Greek Street and has since grown into a global empire with Houses everywhere from Berlin to Miami and Istanbul. There are now seven Houses in London, each with its own identity, but all striving to create a laid-back, non-corporate atmosphere for people in the creative industry to work, play and sleep in.

How did you become under-27s membership manager for Soho House in west London?

I worked in the music industry for four years after I left school. Both my parents worked in the industry. I worked as an A&R scout and in publishing, too. Both are about being good with people, so when the opportunity came up at White City House, I went for it.

What does your job involve?

The main part of my job is helping the under-27 community for west London and creating the best experience for them once they are members with us. We offer a half-price membership to under-27s up to the age of 30. Quite often some of the most talented people in music, film and television are quite young. They’ll shape the future of the industry and we want them on board.

Who is the typical White City House member?

We’re for people who work in the creative industries, so it doesn’t matter if you’re 19 or 40, we try to ensure it’s a welcoming space. We don’t talk about exclusivity rather an inclusive, collaborative community who come to work together, collaborate and relax. The membership at White City is split 50:50 between under-27s and over and also between male and female. In terms of events, we try to make sure there’s something for everyone.

Do you have a dress code?

We think of ourselves as a home from home, so the only thing we ask is to keep it relaxed wherever possible. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have actually have a specific no-suits policy it’s more about the Houses not feeling too corporate. All our members tend to dress in a casual way, because one minute you’re meeting a client, the next you might be dancing to Kelis.

How do you dress for the job?

I want to look as if I haven’t tried too hard, but still look sharp and well-dressed. My evenings can often go in different directions and it’s sometimes hard to know where my friends and I will end up. It could be a bar, but it could also be someone’s house. It’s about knowing I’ll feel good in any situation. I like to mix casual style with smarter elements – a smart pair of trousers with trainers and a T-shirt. As long as the fit is good, then I don’t like to over-complicate it.

Mr Robert Rodier-Gaggl, 40, bars manager, The Arts Club

Founded in 1863, The Arts Club counts Mr Charles Dickens and Mr Auguste Rodin among its former members. A major refurbishment six years ago brought this Mayfair institution bang up to date, and it continues to be a haven for those who work in art, literature and the sciences.

How did you become bars manager of The Arts Club?

I moved to London 12 years ago from Vienna via Cologne, and ran the Connaught Bar and Champagne Room, and just before The Arts Club, I ran the bar at the Bulgari Hotel.

What does your job involve?

I’m here to make sure that we have a nice selection of drinks, both classic and modern. The thing with a members’ club is that lots of our customers come in every day, so we need to constantly evolve for them. It’s nice to have a certain standard, but people want to see new things as well.

Who is the typical Arts Club member?

People who have really made it to the top of their professions. They’re more established. They’re people who have owned galleries for many years, or over many generations. We have lots of people from the world of fashion, too.

Do you have a dress code?

Smart-casual. No shorts for men, obviously. You don’t need to wear a tie, but you should have a certain standard of appearance. We’re still in Mayfair – it’s a somewhat classical environment. Other clubs have a more relaxed dress code, perhaps to reflect a younger, up-and-coming clientele, but our people have really made it to the top and our dress code reflects this.

How do you dress for the job?

The way I dress is a reflection of the values of the club. Our members are very well-dressed and we have to respect that. I have four suits made for me by Thom Sweeney – two in the summer and two in the winter. I wear Thom Sweeney every day because its suits are well cut and comfortable.

Mr Paul Murashe, 47, nightclub manager, Annabel’s

How did you become nightclub manager at Annabel’s?

I’m from Sheffield and studied art and fashion before coming to London to work in hospitality. Before Annabel’s, I worked at Rules, Nobu Berkeley Street, Kitty Chai in New York and another Richard Caring restaurant called Sexy Fish. Then I arrived here.

What does your job involve?

A members’ club is a lot more personal than a restaurant. You really have to know the members and develop a close relationship. You see families from when they first get married to when their kids get their first jobs. I know what they drink, like to eat. I know them and their family. It’s about making the members feel at home.

Who is the Annabel’s member?

We have a very eclectic membership, from the original high-society, aristocratic members to younger members introduced by our committee from the worlds of music, art, fashion, tech and film. We’ve always been thought of as one of the old-style members’ clubs, which we are. It’s in our DNA, but we’re evolving, which is reflected in our new, more relaxed dress code.

What is the dress code?

A dress code dictates a certain style. You have to understand what you’re walking into, especially in such an opulent environment as ours. We love that sense of occasion. Our lady members wear these phenomenal couture dresses while the gentlemen wear incredible Savile Row suits, but with a pair of Lanvin high-tops. It’s down to the way you put your style together.

How do you dress for the job?

Everyone who works here is an integral part of the theatre and show that is Annabel’s. I wear suits by Lanvin, Tom Ford, Thom Browne and Ermenegildo Zegna Couture. What I love about Alessandro Sartori’s collections for Zegna are the sportswear elements blended with the classic craftsmanship and beautiful Italian fabrics. I’m influenced by Halston and Studio 54. Zegna is making a green velvet suit for me. The opulent and super-luxurious fabric fits into the environment here.

Shop what to wear for party season here