Is there a town that does members’ clubs quite like London? The city’s first members-only spots were established in the late 18th century by the English aristocracy, and were peppered around London’s West End. These swanky hideaways became known for the debauched activities that went on behind the gilded doors. Today, with the exception of a few who still eulogise the good old days (Chiltern Firehouse, Groucho Club, we’re looking at you), the modern incantations often feel more like wellness clubs, boasting celebrity chef restaurants, boutique spa and gym facilities, and co-working spaces that will have you pitching to go freelance immediately.
Top-tier players like the Soho House group own six properties around town. They have recently opened a new property outside of the Capital, Soho Farmhouse which is set in 100 acres of idyllic Oxfordshire countryside.
The 1863 The Arts Club, nestled in Mayfair of which Charles Dickens was a founding member, recently underwent an overhaul courtesy of London-based architects Sagrada. They have conceived an art deco haven — with 16 rooms and suites — by way of Jacques Adnet, Gio Ponti, Piero Fornasetti and Hans Wegner; all embossed leather headboards, hand-tufted rugs, antique bronze doors and cast-iron bathtubs, along- side a permanent art collection that includes work by Tomás Saraceno, John Baldessari and John Stezaker.
The Gansevoort Hotel Group, best known for its set of stylish New York properties recently announced plans to open The Curtain; a hotel and members’ club located in hip Shoreditch. The 120-room hotel, slated to open this year, will pay homage to its roots — it shares the same road that Shakespeare’s Curtain Road Theatre troupe once called home. Interiors will combine sumptuous bottle-green leather banquets and red velvet curtains with edgier elements, such as exposed concrete and industrial lighting to appease the neighbourhood’s creative, design-focused crowd.
One of London’s newest club-style offerings, set for 2016, is the Upper Riverside Club, housed in the SOM-designed Upper Riverside buildings — a series of five towers that terrace down to the Thames on the Greenwich Peninsula. Members have access to everything from private clubrooms to rooftop entertainment spaces, a swimming pool, co-working spaces and a terrace overlooking the river. You can catch a film in the on-site cinema, or take a yoga class in the gym. Also on the premises; buzzy social spaces and public gardens, as well as the popular Craft Café just nearby.
Unlike cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, where sky-high residential living is the norm, rooftop entertaining is still a burgeoning concept in London
Blame it on the less-than-favourable weather, but until recently one of the only places to take a dip with city views was Shoreditch House, another East End club; its leafy roof terrace has a heated pool flanked by classic red-and-white striped loungers. Upper Riverside ups the ante with a Tom Dixon-designed ‘Renew’ spa and gym space, where you have the skyline of London as your view while you swim laps. Not that the interiors are an afterthought. Expect Dixon’s signature copper accents, jewel tones and black marble, while robust and industrial materials used throughout lend a strong British narrative.
Indeed, many of London’s members’ clubs boast high-profile collaborations with world-class designers. Zaha Hadid was responsible for the avant-garde interiors, including the futuristic curved bar. At the once-extolled Home House, and at Chiltern Firehouse, French studio KO created unique interiors in this award-winning restoration of a 19th-century Gothic fire station in Manchester Square to create a boutique hotel for André Balazs.
Leisure time aside, clubs are increasingly emerging as a hotspot for their members’ business agenda, particularly for the cities’ creative set. The Hospital Club in Covent Garden is arguably the champion of this scene — a crowd of media types uses its eccentrically decorated rooms and studios as hip secondary work- spaces. And many of London’s clubs offer the option of chic private areas to be used for an exclusive event, business meeting or an intimate party. Back at Upper Riverside, a series of elegant spaces are at hand for when you need uninterrupted time to work, or want to entertain pals with a bit of pizzazz. Friends and family will be opting to come over to yours from now on — not that you’ll take much persuading to stay put.