London’s members-only institutions found prominence among the British upper class in the 18th century, and although a degree of modernization has taken place, many still remain the exclusive preserve of men. Gaining entry to London’s top gentlemen’s clubs is tricky, but for those interested in trying, we list the top spots.
White’s is one of the oldest and most exclusive clubs in London, established in 1693. This members-only haven of serenity is situated in a grand Portland stone Grade I-listed building on St. James’s Street, secreted away in Piccadilly. The club remains of the male-only persuasion. A plethora of royals are presently members, including heir to the throne Prince Charles. Complete with gaming rooms, a majestic bar, and a menu replete with British game, White’s is an enclave of tradition nestled in the bosom of modern London.
First established in 1762 as a private society, Brooks’s is one of the oldest gentlemen’s clubs in London. The club is now housed in a grand yellow brick and Portland stone building, which mimics the style of early Dutch country houses. Brooks’s offers its members access to a bar, dining room, library, and gaming rooms. Its alumni includes former prime minister William Pitt the Younger and slave trade abolitionist leader William Wilberforce.
Founded in 1762 by the future British prime minister, Lord Shelburne (William Petty), Boodle’s gentlemen’s club counts itself among one of the most prestigious in London. Boodle’s, which celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2012, got its name from its original head waiter, the austere Edward Boodle. Like most of the older clubs in London, Boodle’s is regarded as being aligned with the Conservative Party of Great Britain, with admittance to the club strictly governed by a system of nomination by individuals who are already members. Club members can recline in this oasis of tranquillity and enjoy its traditional dish, orange fool.
The Athenaeum gentlemen’s club is an aesthetic delight; a building designed by Decimus Burton, built in the neoclassical style with a bas-relief frieze (a low relief decorated with imagery or emblems) copied from that of the Parthenon in Athens. As they enter, club members pass under the watchful gaze of the classical goddess of wisdom, Athena, who stands erect above the doorway. Members can explore the extensive collection of dusty tomes collected in the club’s library and potter around the smoking room (in which smoking is not permitted).
As its name suggests, The In & Out (Naval and Military Club) was established as a refined meeting place for officers and gentlemen of the armed forces, and has more recently began admitting females and those not in the armed forces. The club, located on St. James’s Square, has two entrances: one in the square where a strict formal dress code must be adhered to and the Babmaes Street entrance, off Jermyn Street, from which members can access the club’s luxurious facilities, including a business centre, gym, swimming pool, and the Goat Bar & Brasserie. The club boasts extensive accommodation consisting of 52 en-suite bedrooms where members can stay. Gaining membership involves the standard procedure of being proposed and seconded by current members.
Formed following the cessation of the Napoleonic Wars, the original raison d’être of The Travellers Club was to provide a sanctuary of refinement for travelling gentlemen. The Travellers Club was established in 1819 and moved to its current Florentine-inspired building in 1832. To gain entry, one must be proposed and seconded by present members.
First formed as a meeting place for Radicals and Whigs following the Great Reform Act of 1832, The Reform Club was inaugurated in a political atmosphere of eponymous reform. The doors of this venerable refuge were flung open to members in May 1836 after the architect Charles Barry won a competition to build a new clubhouse for the society. In line with its progressive heritage, in 1981 the club became one of the first of its kind to admit women, and it claims to offer “a friendly welcome, irrespective of background or nationality,” the only characteristics required being, “character, talent, and achievement.” Nevertheless, one must still be proposed and seconded to be considered for membership. Members enjoy the privilege of chambers for overnight stays, a library, a restaurant, and an extensive wine cellar.
The Carlton was founded by Conservative Party peers, MPs and gentlemen in 1832 and, as such, is yet another gentlemen’s club with a conservative political alignment. The club was founded at a time contiguous to The Reform Club, as Conservative Party members felt the need to establish a meeting place to plan their counter attack following the passing of the first Reform Act. The club derives its name from its original premises at Carlton Terrace but was moved, ironically, to be situated next to The Reform Club in Pall Mall after its membership outgrew the building. The Carlton’s venerated membership wasn’t enough to protect it from the Luftwaffe during the Blitz of the Second World War, after which it was moved to its current resting place at 69 St. James’s Street. Until her death, Lady Margaret Thatcher was the only female member of the club with full membership having been made an honorary member in 1975.
Founded in 1831, the Garrick Club resides in the environs of “Theaterland” in London’s West End. Traditionally, the club was meant for men of the arts, especially theater, and today it still has a substantial theater library that contains important manuscripts and documents. Notable members have included the writers Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and Sir Kingsley Amis. New members require a proposal from an existing member, and the final decision is made by a secret ballot. Not for individuals of arid and fusty character, the club’s original criterion was that “It would be better that 10 objectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted.
Members of the East India Company and commissioned officers of the Army and Navy of Great Britain founded the East India Club in the 19th century. After merging with both the Sports Club and Public Schools Club, the East India Club began introducing young public school boys to the world of the gentlemen’s club. For this reason, the membership of the club is a melange of individuals of varying age; “busy young men and their more seasoned seniors.” As this excerpt from the club’s mission statement suggests, women are still not admitted to the East India Club. The club offers its members a variety of facilities, including a fully equipped gym, a billiards room, a business room (as no working papers are allowed in the public rooms), and club sports teams to partake in.