Friday, January 5, 2007

The Traditional Gentlemen's Club

. Friday, January 5, 2007

Readers of this blog will know that The Monarchist is an Old World stiff with a taste for Old World things. Stone edifices, ancient orders, historical regiments, colourful heraldry, etc - those unappreciated bits and pieces of glory and splendor that the fleeting modernist willfully ignores when not attempting to tear them down with his wrecking ball. You can add to this list the quaint Old World civility of the traditional gentlemen’s club, which as an institution has a stronger chance of survival than any of those other worthies, including the monarchy, precisely because it is not in the public sphere. Even with blow torch in hand, the modernist hasn’t the faintest prospect against the hidden pleasures of the private club.

untitledI’m not yet a member of one of these esteemed clubs, but having been raised in an Officer's Mess and missing it, will one day hopefully find my way. In the meantime, I rely on a close personal friend who hangs out at the swanky Rideau Club, and who by reciprocal benefit, is also entitled to transitory membership in most other gentlemen clubs across the English-speaking world. The spirit of that great line from The Sound of Music applies here: "I like how the rich live. I like how I live when I'm with them".

But the truth of the matter is, for a $1,500 per year annual membership fee (more or less), you don't have to be so well-to-do to afford it. For the price of a London hotel, better to stay at the Carlton Club than fork out a hundred pounds at the Four Seasons. So long as you appreciate the old ethos of “gaming, gossip and good dress”, along with fine dining, smoking cigars, drinking port and other manly pleasures, you're well on your way. On the other hand, the blackballing tradition is still prevalent in many of the clubs, and some of the London ones are still downright impossible to get into, even if you happen to be stonkingly rich, on the not unsound pretense “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted” (- Garrick Club's motto):

...anyone hoping for membership must be proposed and seconded by existing members just to be placed on a waiting list. No proposal and seconding by existing members means you will not even be considered for membership – even having all the money in the world would have no sway with these establishments. Once at the top of the waiting list – which usually takes a few years – the proposal goes before a committee where there is still a very high risk that a proposed member will be blackballed and - as was proved by the Prince of Wales when he proposed a friend at Whites a few years ago - even a royal nomination does not guarantee membership. In this instance, the proposer of such a candidate is usually also expected to resign as he has failed to withdraw his ‘unsuitable’ candidate, although royalty may manage to avoid this rule!
Historically, such clubs were for the aristocratic and elite, and the first establishments were founded in London. Although no longer purely a sanctum for the males of the English upper classes, very little has changed:

The original Gentlemen’s clubs were established in the St James’s area of the west end of London in the 18th century, and this is where the oldest and most blue chip clubs – Whites, Boodles, and Brooks's – can still be found today...

Women are still not permitted in these establishments or are only permissible through a separate entrance. Other clubs - and those probably considered by members of the aforementioned three to be second tier - still tend to be characterized by a specific constituency. Some of London’s most notable include the Garrick (authors, actors, and barristers), the Carlton (Conservative Party members), the Athenaeum (civil service, clergy, and academics), and the Beefsteak (intellectuals). More recent modern additions such as the Groucho Club, Century, and Soho House cater to a younger, more media-minded set of members. A unique aspect of the majority of the traditional clubs is that any discussion of business or trade is strictly forbidden – a rule which is usually strictly enforced.
A cursory glance at a few noteworthy clubs:

- Forget about trying to get into Boodles, Brooke's or White's. In the latter case, the Prince of Wales or David Cameron won't let you in. Elites only.
- Athenaeum Club, London, boasted such notables as Churchill, Kipling, Palmerston, Dickens, Cecil Rhodes, Sir Walter Scott...for many years was seen to represent the peak of the public intellectual.
- The Meighen Lounge, Albany Club, Toronto. The Albany Club is one of Canada’s oldest private clubs. Founded in 1882 by Sir John A. MacDonald and named after the Duke of Albany.
- The Weld Club of Perth, Australia was established by former British military officers in 1871.

Other noteworthy clubs:
- The Carlton Club is home to members of the Conservative Party
- The Oxford and Cambridge Club, London
- Visit the rooms at the Union Club, Victoria, British Columbia
- The Reform Club, London
- The Australian Club, Melbourne
- The Garrick Club, London
- The Caledonian Club. "A little part of London that will forever remain Scottish"
- The Royal Air Force Club
- The Naval and Military Club, London
- The Commonwealth Club, private club of the Royal Commonwealth Society
- The Savage Club, London. Clubbers are known for their drunken merriment and call each other "Brother Savage"



William Demers said...

Great clubs you have mentioned. The Toronto Club was also a great gentleman's club in the past, although women are now allowed in.

I am fond of many Old World ideas and I hate how people are upset that a group of men would want to socialize together in privacy. It's even more upsetting that they get very emotional about it and call it discriminatory.

People should be allowed to associate with whomever they wish, without an angry mob of Liberals telling them they're elitist jerks.

Andrew Cusack said...

I am told the Commonwealth Club used to be a proper club but, sadly, was completely gutted by modernisers a few years back and replaced by minimalist all-white boredom. It's all "contemporary" now. The RCS has really declined, from a combination of gentleman's club and learned society (originally the Royal Empire Society) to a debased, politically-correct organization obsessed with the dreaded multi-culturalism.

The Monarchist said...

Oh dear. The Commonwealth Club has been duly scratched out, and will henceforth not be on my list of places to stay whilst in Londontown. I hope the Commonwealth Club in Sydney, Australia, has not been similarly debased, assuming they are associated.

Another one in Toronto that I forgot to mention, and which I've been a few times, is the National Club, still in the original building in the central core, replete with Old Dominion character. Unfortunately the original building of the Rideau Club in Ottawa burnt down, and they've never found a suitable replacement. Instead they rent an opulent penthouse office tower overlooking Parliament Hill, which is not quite the same thing. In MacDonald, Laurier or Borden's day, they would have built another stone building with the money of their members. Even though its members include the Governor-General, Prime Minister and various Captains of Industry, the will is just not there. They could have taken over the old American Embassy right across from Parliament, for example.

Incidentally, there must be some fine gentlemen establishments in New York, no?

Younghusband said...

I was curious as to why the Commonwealth Club had been crossed out, especially as it is the private members' club of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The pictures of it provided in its website are absolutely dire though; the Beijing airport has more soul. It claims to be "the first club of its kind to open in London for several decades and as such is totally unique", possibly in its having been influenced by hospitals.

The Monarchist said...

I have limited the crossed out part to the club and not the society. It does sound rather ghastly plain to recommend as an Old-World Gentlemen's Club.

Gabriel said...

While doing research for a novel in which the protagonist goes to England during WW2, I came across this article.

Very informative and educational! Even though I am an American, I've always been of the Victorian and Edwardian era in the UK's history.

The idea of a traditional gentlmen's club is wholly appealing. It's shame that no such thing exists here in America.
Gentlmen's club here refers to very low class strip halls. Now, I've no problem with the female form,quite the opposite, I enjoy it immensely.

Anyway, I'm straying away from the point of my posting. I spent a great deal of time reading the rest of your entries and have enjoyed them immensely. I'm going to subscribe using Google Reader.

Keep up the good work!

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Anonymous said...

Intrigued as to why the In and Out (Naval and Military) is in your list of notable clubs. Like many refugees from that place, I feel that it has become more of a subscription hotel for anyone that cares to pay rather than a true club - the most clublike of the services clubs is by a long chalk the Rag these days...

Anonymous said...

yes the In and Out is dead in the evenings but they have a stellar reciprocal list in the USA, and around the world-especially Central and South America because of the Canning Club that shares their premises.

Crux Australis said...

TM, the Commonwealth Club is in CANBERRA, not Sydney.

The "Commie" as it is affectionately referred to, is fantastic and is well within traditional clubland. I've eaten and stayed there many times. Its reciprocal list within Australia is complete. Take out the country/sporting ones and this is the best list of Australian clubland on the web:

Comparing it to its London namesake does it no justice I'm afraid.

It does have women members, but much of clubland has gone down this path and it hasn't ended in ruin - although if I'd had a vote when my clubs made the change I'd have probably voted no.

Most of Pall Mall has women members now too (Hurlingham, O&C, Cav&Gds, RAC, Carlton, Reform, Athenaeum, etc) or lady associates (Turf, Oriental, Boodles).

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Maple Leaf republic? Roger Kimball's sleight of hand (since corrected!)
Queen's Birthday: New Zealand unveils new Vice-Regal Standard
Prince Charming: Quebec author calls Canadian G-G a "negro queen"
The Senior Service: Sub-Lieutenant Wales to take on Pirates of the Caribbean
Crown of Disenchantment: What does it require to withhold royal assent?
Colonial Mentality: Key republican thinks Victoria Cross is a colonial relic
The Red Baron: Billy Bishop, not Mannock, was the British Empire's top ace
Which Scots conservatism: Unionist or Nationalist?
Loyal Subject: After all she has done, we owe the Queen our oath
Victoria Day – Fête de la Reine: Official B'day of the Queen of Canada
Renaming the Victoria Day Weekend: Let's get rid of Heritage Day Bob
Pro Valore: Canada mints its own Victoria Cross in time for Victoria Day
State Visit to Turkey: Mustafa Akyol says God Save the Queen, Indeed
Norn Iron Unites: What issue is uniting all parties of Northern Ireland?
Extreme Loyalist: Michael Stone attempted to slit the throats of Adams and McGuinness because he just "can't handle" republicans being in government.
Canada's Vice-Regal dubbed an elegant mix between Lady Di and Nelson Mandela
Queen of Australia: Support for Australian republic hits new low
A Heroes Welcome: The Windsor Castle Royal Tattoo, 8-10 May 2008
Fat, Vile and Impudent: Alan Fotheringham is back on the bottle
The Devine Right of Bling: Our Royals have become hereditary celebrities
Battle of the Atlantic: Canadians remember the longest battle of WW2
Old Etonian Toff: Boris Johnson installed as Tory Mayor of London
Britain needs a Patron Saint: Cry God for Harry, Britain and St. Aiden?
Anglos in Mont-Royal: Rooting for the Montreal Canadiens
Daniel Hannan: Borders of the Anglosphere and the British Empire was a mistake
Australia 2020: One Big Fat Republican Con Job
Bye bye Tommy: O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy go away"
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Carpetbaggers Down Under: Kevin 'Mugabe' Rudd wins 98.5% support for republic
Kipling: The Jeremiah of Empire and the Poet Laureate of Civilisation
Duke of Edinburgh: Behind the gaffes is a man of real sincerity
Lord Rutherford: The Father of the Atom lives on in great great grandson
Queen of Australia: Royalty Protects us from Tyranny, David Barnett
Long Live the Broadsheet! Norumbega, more traditionalist than the Pope.
A Tale of Two Countries: Soldiers of Britain and Canada serve the same Queen but...
Loyal Subject: Polishing the Royal Crown, Matt Bondy & Brendon Bedford
Devoted to the End: Obituary of Sir Phillip Bridges
The Monarchist does not recognize the Republic of Kosova
Loyal Subject: MPs Ruse Defeated; God Save the Queen!
St. Paddy's Day: Edmund Burke, the greatest Irishman who ever lived
Not Amused: The Bunkum of Timothy Garton Ash
Hero Harry: Rave Reviews across the Commonwealth
Patriot Prince: Prince Harry fought for us all, Charles Moore
William F. Buckley, RIP: He had a Tory gratitude for the pleasures of life
Their Lordships' Duty: The House of Lords can influence the Lisbon Treaty debate
Knights of Oz: Revive Sirs or I'll have your guts for garters
Peter Hitchens: People love the Queen...and the BBC hates us for it
Our Greatest Monarch: Paul Johnson says Henry V was our greatest monarch
Princess Diana Inquest: A Dirty Raincoat Show for the World
Malcom Turnbull: 'Queen's death will spark republican vote'
Duke of York: The Royals are not "stuffed dummies". They should have their say
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty
Honouring Sir Edmund Hillary
The Queen versus an E.U. President
Going Solo: Prince William earns his Wings
James C. Bennett: The Third Anglosphere Century
Knights of Oz: Revive Sirs or I'll have your guts for garters
Princess Diana Inquest: A Dirty Raincoat Show for the World
Malcom Turnbull: 'Queen's death will spark republican vote'
Future Peer: The life and times of Lady Victoria Beckham
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty


New York Times: Ever Backwards into the Royal Future
Peter Hitchens: People love the Queen...and the BBC hates us for it
Christopher Hitchens: An Anglosphere Future
Andrew Cusack: Republicanism is a traitor's game
Courageous Patrician: Rt Hon Ian Douglas Smith (1919-2007)
The Last Rhodesian: What began with Rhodes and ended with Ian?
Gentleman Journalist: The Lord Baron W.F. Deedes, 1913-2007
Not Amused: Blair's sinister campaign to undermine the Queen
Loyal Subject: Queen Elizabeth: A stranger in her own country
Reverence Deference: Bowing and Scraping Back in Tradition
Rex Murphy: Kennedy, Churchill, Lincoln - The rousing bon mot is no more
Gerald Warner: Don't shed a tear for Diana cult in its death throes
The End of Grandeur: Rich, chincy Canada puts Strathmore on the blocks
Confessions of a Republican Leftie: "The Queen charmed the pants off me"
The King's Own Calgary Regiment: Cpl. Nathan Hornburg is laid to rest
The Royal Gurkha Rifles: Prince William grieves the death of Major Roberts
Queensland Mounted Rifles: Trooper David Pearce, 41, killed in Afghanistan
The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary