Long-time lover or aspiring member, hearken. London’s private members' clubs—those much-needed hideaways in the city—are reopening. If you are new to the private members’ club scene, know this: membership isn’t always a case of elitism or being associated with high society (though admittedly, this is, on many occasions, the whole truth and nothing but the truth). No, many are about belonging to a particular industry (hello creatives, hello bankers) where like-minded individuals can network or simply kick back with their kin.
Exclusive, elusive and bursting with intrigue, LuxDeco CEO and founder Jonathan Holmes takes a look at nine of London’s with the lengthiest of waitlists.
Image Credit: The Arts Club
The Arts Club
Founded in 1863, The Arts Club is not without history, but, fret not, this is an old club with a young soul, as should be expected of a truly creative locale. Founded “by men of vision in order to provide a haven for those people who had professional or amateur relationships with the Arts, Literature or Sciences”—among them Charles Dickens, Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet and James Whistler—the club has evolved and reinvented itself over the course of its history with current members hailing from the fields of art, architecture, fashion, film, literature, music, performance, photography, science, theatre and media.
Nowadays it’s a hot spot for fine dining (whether Japanese at Kyubi or Italian at Leo’s), the chicest of medical and health facilities courtesy of Lanserhof, a venue for a fascinating talk programme and, of course, the home of spectacular art (would you expect anything less?). Rotating exhibitions furnish the club with Laurie Simmons, Guy Bourdin, Rebecca Warren, Tomas Saraceno, Jeremy Kost and Luis Gispert featuring prominently in the collection. Members are also welcome to stay in the club’s hotel, which was a new offering in 2015, allowing its renowned A+ hospitality to be available night and day.
The club’s joining fee costs $2000 and it’s annual fee £2000 with the option to add a spouse or partner for an additional £1250. Young members (under 30) enjoy rates of £1000 joining fee and £1000 annual fee.
Image Credit: The Conduit
This Mayfair members club is said to be a club with a conscience, and it’s living proof of just that right from the point of membership enquiries, asking: what have you done that’s good for the world? Knowing the right people and working in the right industry won’t get you a golden ticket here. Social activism is the not-so-secret password.
Once you’re in, you’ll likely find yourself perched at the bar and starting a conversation with an influential NGO founder or a sustainable fashion designer. Christiane Amanpour (the chief international correspondent for CNN) is a member, and so is Sali Shetty (the secretary general for Amnesty International).
A club of rich palettes (interiors and otherwise), the interiors were designed by Russell Sage, who, along with Conduit’s co-founder Paul Van Zyl, a human rights lawyer, was keen to create a space that was relaxing and wide-stretching in worldly inspiration. Roam through its six storeys then and you’ll discover ceramics from Pretoria’s Mamelodi Township, a beguiling angora tapestry woven by a collective of Swazi women and many a piece from independent, upcycling brands. There’s even a concept store by the Maiyet Collective that unites over 50 sustainable fashion and beauty brands.
A club with a conscience indeed along with membership packages that depend on age, location and level of use. Hint, you’re looking in the region of £1,800 a year with a £700 joining fee for the full package.
Image Credit: Annabel's
Ask anybody on the circuit and they’ll tell you that Annabel’s is known for being one of London’s most-loved members’ clubs, and has been since it all began back in 1963. There’s just something about the place, especially post-£65m refurb and relocation to take over the entirety of a Grade-I-listed Georgian townhouse in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square.
The interior, designed by LuxDeco 100 designer Martin Brudnizki (the man behind some of the world’s most prestigious hotels, restaurants and clubs from The Ivy to Soho Beach House in Miami), does little to disappoint. It’s rather like the most beautiful playground for glamorous grown-ups to clink glasses in its many bars, to brunch in one of its multiple restaurants or to dance the night away in its world-famous night club (where Princess Diana and Kate Moss put on their dancing shoes).
Step into the lobby and there’s a floating unicorn suspended from the chandelier. Sit in The Rose Room and take in the hand-painted mural by artist Gary Myatt. Head to the bathroom and you’ll freshen up using Lalique gold swan taps. It’s the perfect balance between whimsy and luxe.
Membership at Annabel’s will set you back £1,250 (as an initial joining fee) and then £3,250 for every year that you call yourself a member, but you can expect to be rubbing shoulders with royalty and supermodels for that.
5 Hertford Street
Said to be Annabel’s arch rival club, the secretive 5 Hertford Street members club is in fact owned by the son of Annabel’s founder, Mark Birley and was founded only in 2012.
The atmosphere here is a very different kettle of fish. Created by fashion designer Rifat Ozbek, it’s homely rather than hyper-dramatised with invitingly worn Chesterfield sofas as far as the eye can see. It’s also dog-friendly rather than dog-tolerating (at Annabel’s celebrity dogs can be cared for by the in-house dog walker), and it’s low-key in terms of dress code rather than the mightily strict rulebook chez Annabel’s. 5 Hertford Street was where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle enjoyed their first date and surprisingly, has become where politicians famously hold hush-hush meetings. The club was in fact referred to in The Evening Standard as ‘the new smoking room of Downing Street.’
In the basement there’s the club known as being its crowning glory, LouLou’s, that feel distinctly similar to old Annabel’s, pre-refurb, and so has seen lots of former members jump ships, favouring the more intimate ambiance that’s to be found here.
Membership costs are rumours, though 2020’s annual fee is said to be in the region of £1,800.
Image Credit: The Court
Taking a change of direction, this time towards Soho, there’s The Court—a former music venue just off Carnaby Street.
This is a member’s club with a notable history despite only opening in 2019, with music legends The Rolling Stones being regulars (both playing and as guests) and Jimi Hendrix performing his first London gig on its stage ‘back in the day’. Even today, it has left not its music heritage behind, when it transforms from a Great Gatsby-like den in the day for luncheons to a music venue by night. Live music and guest DJ sets are a night-in night-out occurrence.
Small but mighty, most of the action takes place in the one decadently dressed room, though it’s a room that packs quite the punch. Musical prowess, a speakeasy setting and drinks served by acclaimed mixologist Mr Lyan, it’s little wonder this private club is considered in the same league as the likes of Annabel’s and 5 Hertford Street. Membership rates are £600 per year with a £300 joining fee.
Image Credit: The AllBright
What better day to open its doors for the first time than on International Women’s Day in 2018? Why? Because this private members club signalled London’s first foray into a women’s only environment. If the history of private clubs tells us they were male-dominated environments, giving them a place to escape from the home and to talk business, then The AllBright sets out to rewrite—or at least add a new chapter to—the history books.
Standing proud in the heart of the city, The AllBright is a five-storey townhouse in Bloomsbury where work comes first. Debates, networking events and career-enhancing workshops are what you can expect (all part of its AllBright academy course) before extravagant parties and celeb spotting. Though it promises both of those too, especially with its fabulously decorated bar, restaurant, cinema room, fitness studio and salon and bond girl Naomie Harris as a founding member.
It’s gone down such a treat that in 2019 it opened its second residence in Mayfair with its two to-die-for roof terraces as well as another in West Hollywood. Work hard, play hard is the unwritten mantra here, so if that sounds like how you live your life, membership starts with a £300 joining fee which you top up with paying an annual membership of £1,300.
Back to Berkeley Square in Mayfair, but this time in a grade-II-listed building, there’s the understated, highly sophisticated Morton’s. A club with a history far longer than many of the other entries vying for the spot of London’s top private members club, it opened in 1823, having been commissioned for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and was known for being the go-to scene for the Bentley Brothers in the 1920s.
This is a private club famous, first, for its first-floor restaurant where it boasts a wine list of over 2,000 varieties and a view not to be missed. And, second, for its contemporary art collection, including originals by Matisse and Julian Opie. It’s a strong but sublime contrast to the club’s Edwardian architecture.
In the basement, there’s an Art Deco nightclub decorated with works by photographer Norman Parkinson, ensuring that even when members do decide to let down their hair, they can do so in the chicest of settings.
Membership fees include a £300 initial fee followed by a £1,000 annual charge.
Image Credit: South Kensington Club
South Kensington Club
SKC for short, and certainly how many of its members refer to it, the clue is in the name for where you can find the front door to this private club—in yet another Georgian townhouse in London’s South Kensington.
One of the newest to the members club scene, the South Kensington Club is one for the detox-loving, health-centric side of society and championing a holistic lifestyle is its raison d’être. It was converted in 2015 from Ronnie Woods’ own private art exhibition and club into the SKC and was later taken over by founder member Will Bose in January 2020 to become entirely privately owned and locally run.
Pilates, Hiit, Paola’s Body Barre, Boxing classes, Russian saunas, private banyas and plunge pools and a skylit gymnasium, an Asian tea library and colonial-style sitting areas—the SKC is all about the art of wellness. Expect a global approach to its interiors too with soothing Tadelakt walls, a lava stone reception desk using lava from mount Etna, and furniture made from a medley of exotic woods, bronze and marble, curated by interior consultant and art director Sussy Cazalet.
Once fully rested and recuperated, there are drinks to be had and dancing to be done—an essential in almost every member club. You’ll find the cocktail bar and terrace amongst a city jungle of Mediterranean trees. This is a place to well and truly escape the city, and to rub shoulders with some truly A-list patrons. But that, of course, comes at a cost with membership fees of £3000 per annum.
Image Credit: Home House
Finally, to Marylebone’s finest, Home House, which was first completed in 1777 for the Countess of Home—a lady who enjoyed entertaining on a grand scale. Designers and architects commonly agree that it is London’s finest surviving example of the work of 18th-century architect Robert Adam.
Like so many of the members’ clubs before it, the setting here is once more a Georgian townhouse, spectacularly spread across not one but three properties in Portman Square. Certainly luxurious, and that’s before we’ve even discussed what’s happening behind club doors. Decor-wise, old meets new here. It’s at once stately and imposing as it is welcoming and homely—hence the name. It provides an elegant, calming space to work during the day but when the sun sets, the atmosphere shifts and it becomes all about socialising and partying like a pro. Buildings 19 and 20 present the highest levels of grandeur and so when No.21 was recently redecorated, the vision was to bring in modernity to complement the 18th-century character next door. There are seven different bars to choose from, including the most-talked about Home Bar featuring its Dame Zaha Hadid design, and three restaurants.
Membership rates here vary, starting from £1,215 and going up to £1,940 per year, each with a one-off £299 joining fee. And if you like the scene here be sure to take a look at the club’s sister club, Home Grown, which opened in 2019.