Ban­jas and Banksy are the new lux­u­ries as rich mil­len­ni­als rein­vent the pri­vate club

This year has seen the birth of busi­nesses of­fer­ing pools, gyms and live mu­sic to young elite mem­bers, re­ports Ben Quinn

The Observer - - NEWS -

It’s mid­week in east Lon­don and in a sub­ter­ranean space a few clus­ters of thir­tysome­things are tap­ping away on Ap­ple lap­tops un­der the gaze of an orig­i­nal Banksy mu­ral. Wel­come to the Cur­tain, one of the lat­est breed of lux­ury mem­bers clubs pro­lif­er­at­ing across Lon­don. This is prov­ing to be a boom year for a new kind of pri­vate club, of­fer­ing lit­er­ary read­ings, live mu­sic, ac­com­mo­da­tion and so­phis­ti­cated gyms and “well­ness” ser­vices.

Four months af­ter the Cur­tain opened in May, Ten Trin­ity Square, a club ap­pendage to a new Four Sea­sons ho­tel, was launched. It prom­ises to do noth­ing less than “rein­vent the shape and scope of meet­ing and ex­change be­tween na­tions and cul­tures of the world”.

The op­er­a­tor of the Hox­ton ho­tel group has lodged a plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion in May­fair for a new Gle­nea­gles pri­vate mem­bers’ club as a Lon­don shop win­dow for the lux­u­ri­ous Scot­tish ho­tel and es­tate. Next month sees the open­ing of a pri­vate mem­bers’ well­ness club, 3 St James Square, for those will­ing to part with an an­nual mem­ber­ship fee of £4,000, plus a £2,000 join­ing fee.

At a dif­fer­ent level, a co­hort of mil­len­ni­als are find­ing the cash for dis­counted mem­ber­ship of clubs such as Shored­itch House as gym mem­ber­ship and add-ons are in­cluded. “It’s just nice to bring a friend along on a Satur­day morn­ing for a swim and have a cof­fee,” said one mem­ber of the east Lon­don club. The 32-yearold, who works in the cre­ative sec­tor, said that she pays about £80 a month.

“You can ra­tio­nalise on the ba­sis that the gym is in­cluded, and if you visit to use it or the pool, you may not buy any­thing else, so it can work out cheaply enough. It’s also a place where you can bring a lap­top and work with a bit of pri­vacy that you might not get in, say, a bar or a cafe, or even bring clients for a meet­ing.”

Dis­counted yearly rates for un­der-30s are com­mon: £210 at the Chelsea Arts Club, £515 at Covent Gar­den’s Hos­pi­tal Club, £300 at Quo Vadis in Soho.

The Cur­tain, which will in­tro­duce a dis­counted fee for younger mem­bers next year, has also un­der­cut Shored­itch House by set­ting its ba­sic mem­ber­ship fees at £1,000 rather than £1,150.

Un­der-30s mem­ber­ship at The Ned in the City of Lon­don, a cre­ation of Soho House own­ers, part­nered with a US ho­tel group, comes in at a higher price – £1,500 with a £250 join­ing fee.

In west Lon­don, newer ar­rivals are hav­ing an ef­fect on older names. Be­fore a re­open­ing later this year, a few doors away from its orig­i­nal venue in Berke­ley Square, Annabel’s has re­laxed its dress code to per­mit denim and train­ers – al­beit with caveats. “Sports shoes should not look like they’ve ac­tu­ally been used to play sports,” stress the new guide­lines.

Oth­ers are ex­pand­ing to in­clude ac­com­mo­da­tion in re­sponse to mem­ber re­quests. There is de­mand, too, for “well­ness” fa­cil­i­ties, the fo­cus of plans at the Arts Club in May­fair. “We opened our ho­tel rooms as a re­sponse to peo­ple say­ing ‘I wish you had rooms,’ and we do have mem­bers who say, ‘This club is per­fect – if only you had a well­ness space’. So we lis­ten to what our mem­bers want and then de­liver,” said Alice Chad­wyck­Healey, its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. Founded in 1863 and count­ing Charles Dick­ens among past mem­bers, the club is also ex­plor­ing lo­ca­tions for global ex­pan­sion, in­clud­ing in Los An­ge­les.

In­vest­ment by Lon­don’s new east Euro­pean and Asian elite is also chang­ing the face of the cap­i­tal’s clubs. At the South Kens­ing­ton, a health- con­scious sanc­tu­ary for the area’s af­flu­ent res­i­dents, a sell­ing point is a lav­ish bath­house with Rus­sian ban­jas ( steam rooms), pri­vate plunge pools and a salt­wa­ter Watsu pool.

“It’s very in­ter­na­tional here, but the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who come here are within walk­ing dis­tance,” said Mi­los Popovic, its gen­eral man­ager. “It’s true that there are quite a few Rus­sian peo­ple – the Rus­sian church is just down the road – but with the ban­jas I would say that they are a ‘Lon­donised banja’. They will be fa­mil­iar to peo­ple who use them in Rus­sia, but with dif­fer­ences.”

Away from ban­jas or Banksy- dec­o­rated bars, how­ever, the old­est clubs of all re­main the true cen­tres of power, ac­cord­ing to Dr Matthew Bond, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at Lon­don South Bank Univer­sity who has stud­ied their mem­ber­ship.

“A lot of the new elite, such as Rus­sian money or hedge fund man­agers, can be tricky to trace. They won’t tend to show up in Who’s Who, for ex­am­ple. But it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise that clubs which we might think of as be­ing the clas­sic elite es­tab­lish­ment have not gone away and young mem­bers of the elite might be equally ea­ger to join them. Just take a look at places like White’s, the old­est Lon­don gen­tle­men’s club, very Eto­nian, very Tory,” he said.

Bond cites the case of Ge­orge Bridges, a peer who was in charge of push­ing Brexit leg­is­la­tion through par­lia­ment un­til quit­ting ear­lier this year amid re­ports of a dis­agree­ment with Theresa May. Bridges is a mem­ber of both White’s and the Beef­steak, where he is likely to rub shoul­ders with mem­bers in­clud­ing Boris John­son.

“Old club struc­tures have not gone away,” he says. “The younger mem­bers of Bri­tain’s elite are still out there, seek­ing each other out and want­ing to have a foot in ev­ery­where.”

‘It’s a place where you can bring a lap­top and work with a bit of pri­vacy you might not get in a bar or a cafe’ Shored­itch House mem­ber

Billy’s Bar at the Cur­tain, left, evokes the leather feel of a tra­di­tional club but its rooftop lido, above, caters for a new gen­er­a­tion, far from those par­o­died by Paul White­house, right, in the BBC’s Fast Show.

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