The story of the Gentlemen’s club is concurrent with the history of british culture. White’s, the supposedly oldest club of gentlemen, was founded in 1693. The only women allowed to set foot through the door is her majesty, the Queen. Among the members of the respective club were four british kings. The Duke of Windsor, Edward the VIII., had to leave the club after rejecting his succession to the throne. To this day rumors prevail that the loss of the gentlemen’s club’s membership, for Edward, was the greater sacrifice.
Every man his club.
What started out as gatherings for debates and drinks would soon become institutionalised. In the 18th and 19th century countless gentlemen’s clubs established in the London heartland, in the noble West End and around St. James – Brook’s for the liberals, Boodle’s for the squiredom, the Athenaeum Club for the scientists and the writers, and the Traveller’s Club for those gentlemen, who could prove they had travelled further than 500 miles (804 km, editor’s note) from London. The clubs were places for networking and power politics. To this day insiders refer to the respective quarters as Clubland. Who dares to take a closer look behind the classicist facades, set step through the pretentious portals or risk a peak view into the marvellous Regency-windows from Haymarket to Pall Mall on St.James Street, will find the gentlemen’s club rooms. Clubs, whose secrets are to this day disclosed with deliberately missing designations.
Whereas, especially in America, the term Gentlemen’s Club is often referred to as a synonym for a strip club, the initial founding spirit of the Gentlemen’s Club is fairly different: establishments where the male elite gathered. A sophisticated, fashionable place, for gentlemen to meet with their kind and exchange ideas, indulge in otherwise prohibited gambling, fine dining with friends or participate in elaborate discussions on political and social matters. The traditional british gentlemen’s clubs were designed like a second home, even offering private guest quarters for members to stay in and overnight. Classic Chesterfield leather davenports, dark mahogany wood, heavy gold-plated chandeliers and expensive hand-knitted persian carpets dominate the exclusive style of the legendary London clubs until today. Another considerable aspect for the popularity of the english gentlemen’s clubs is the fact that they were serving the british proclivity for a separation of genders and social classes and thus could advance to become a proud “institution of englishness”. Adam joins the club to escape Eve’s company. If the idea of “a man’s world” had ever found practical implementation, it was right here, behind the mysterious facades of Pall Mall. Where no female would be allowed to set foot into the sacred chambers, not even phone calls from desperate housewives were accepted. Today, of course, fortunately or unfortunately, these strict rules are no more.
Old becomes new.
Today, the gentlemen’s clubs of Great Britain and the mainland are gaining new popularity. Aggressive membership marketing, is still unnecessary. Just like in the old days, where fathers would inscribe their sons for membership at the day of birth, the waiting lists are long and ever extending. The renaissance of the clubs has its reasons: exclusivity, classy wardrobe and no business-talk – still a welcome escape from the fast-paced, busy modern world. Who wants to become a member has to be recommended by at least two existing members and then – be patient: successful membership applications can take up to eight years of waiting in line. The talent of queuing in line being – of course – another honorable profession of the British. And today even women are welcome at – some, not all – gentlemen’s clubs. The story goes that back in the day Margaret Thatcher herself overturned the gentlemen’s clubs no-women-policy: At the conservative Carlton Club in London, where, by british tradition, former prime ministers would be invited for membership, women were traditionally prohibited. But when the “iron lady” Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street in 1990, the club resolved the problem in the most british way: by simply constituting the female former prime minister “honorary male” and welcoming her to the exclusive club.
Also in mainland Germany numerous gentlemen’s clubs can be found. One of the most famous is the “Übersee-Club” in Hamburg, established 1922. Another example that lives up to the tradition and ideals of the classic gentlemen’s club is the SOHO-House in Berlin: an intimate venue, where artists and producers recline for exquisite food and beverages in cosy living-room atmosphere. The clubs are back in fashion. In Berlin and all over the globe. But still, waiting lists are long.