London’s Legendary Gentlemen Clubs
British upper-class men established the first Gentlemen club at the end of the 17th century in London's West End. Originally, they were only accessible for male private members of the upper class. In the course of the 19th century, they also became open to a broader social society. With the beginning of the 20th century, Gentlemen clubs also started to allow women to join these elitist establishments. Until today, Gentlemen clubs are based on a private membership and are only accessible for members.
Back in the days, Gentlemen clubs served well off men as sort of a second home. They came here to enjoy a nightcap when all bars and other establishments were already closed or simply to take a break from their wives and lives at home. Here they could rest, relax, play games, meet their friends, have a chat and some food, and they could even stay overnight. The wealthiest clubs were often designed by the same people that stood behind the most exclusive aristocratic residences. It was not unusual that men spend more time in the club than at home.
Even today, guests of the most exclusive Gentlemen clubs are welcomed by a concierge sitting by the door, checking the conformity with the strict prevailing black tie dress code. Memberships are highly sought after and waiting lists are long. The luxury private-member-only establishments are in any way exactly what we would expect. We know the clichés from books and movies, but they aren’t actually clichés. The furnishings and interiors are dark and wooden, the air is filled with heavy cigar smoke, somewhere sizzles a glowing fire in an open fireplace, keeping the whole room warm and cosy, the lighting is dim, the sofas and chairs are heavy, wooden and covered with even darker genuine leather. In the leather armchair sits calmly and wise an old man reading the newspaper swirling gently his glass of golden Whisky. Some gentlemen with cigars gathered around a small table to debate about the political future of our country.
Tradition is one of the things the British value the most, thanks to which there are still around 15 of those exclusive original Gentlemen clubs left. Tucked away in quiet side streets and unassuming buildings, the clubs are only recognisable for those in the know. Then as well as today the clubs were highly exclusive and only accessible for members. Anyone without a membership pass is asked by a concierge to leave, politely but unmistakeable. Some clubs pride themselves with honorary members of the royal family and are not shy to display this honour in form of photographs along their entry walls.
The most exclusive Gentlemen clubs are indeed popular among the British royals and some have even been used by the Queen to celebrate special occasions. An election commission in each club ensures the continuance of the club’s values and tradition. Most of the members are over 45 years old but there is still a high demand for memberships so that the tradition is assured to live on for many years to come.
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