Forgive me, sad old sop that I am. I still hope, when someone casually mentions ‘meeting at my club’, that at some point during the evening an elderly gent will challenge me to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon or a juggernaut or some such. This is how delirious I become at the casual mention of ‘one’s club’. Naturally, I don’t belong to any – as none, quite rightly, would have me. And its all in the belonging, isn’t it? The possessive pronoun is king. ‘Fancy going to a club?’ is not the same and should not be confused because ‘a club’ means vomit and techno and no comfortable seating. But ‘fancy going to my club?’ Wowee. That’s decanted port hitting crystal, cigar smoke and bottle green chesterfields. Much more welcoming. Old men. Paintings of dogs in mocked up courtroom scenes. I’m thinking Hogarth, Hobbs and Harris tweed.
Before I disappear up my own portcullis, I’d like to point out that I’m not an idiot. I went to a red-brick university and I appreciate that clubs are redolent of a particularly nasty brand of the good old days – when Empire was all and Britannia ruled the etc etc. A previous boyfriend belonged to The East India Club – how unnecessarily colonial is that? But for the purposes of today lets (say we can) wrench the style from its context and reach a concensus – old school club aesthetic is hot and I get excited when I think I’m going to get in one.
So when my oldest mukka, Chas, drops an invite to her club (hers, not mine) into the conversation, I pounce on it. Impatiently, I ask her what the odds are on discussing the Suez Canal with a bulldog in a bowler hat over boiled eggs and soldiers? She doesn’t understand. Ah, if only she could see what clubs are like in my head….
Instead, we’re left with the reality of her club, the one that really exists, that she belongs to and I don’t. And here I am outside its entrance, somewhere off Moorgate, in scuzzy chic Hoxton. Its evidently so cool that it looks like shit from the outside . I’m a little dejected –Mayfair it isn’t. I’m already downgrading my pre-selected topics of conversation.
I am suffering a severe status downgrading as well – this club, behind the mystery door is busy! Tanned people in good but bland clothes saunter in and up the stairs. They know how to get in. I don’t. Snatches of conversation put me at ease but set me up for what’s to come. I over hear one member say to her guest ‘Go in, have a drink, just see who talks to you.’ Are we, as mere guests, not allowed to instigate a little chat? This is not and has never been my idea of a basis for a good night out. And I’m beginning to think I’m a little out of touch with what member’s club means….
So here’s a simple guide. Using tonight’s venue as a template, I will enlighten you as to the differences between a members club and a bog standard bar/restaurant.
The good about clubs
- Less people.
- Nicer décor. Inside it sort of looks like Monica’s flat in Friends – exposed brick and fire escape, low warm lighting and a dull bronze bar façade and ceiling.
- Bar staff – both hunky and less arrogant than other places. I’m going to go with ‘bar staff from Amaretto advert’ as my point of reference.
- Key difference in my view – loads of people check on you all the time. Like a really good BUPA hospital.
The bad about today’s clubs:
- People stare at each other. Obviously this happens in all bars, and some would say it is in fact, the sole purpose of bars, but when there are less people around, it’s a little de trop. I think this exposes the club psyche – members are hoping that the exclusivity of belonging will introduce them to those of a higher status – but isn’t it entirely possible that the club will be composed purely of people who were stupid enough to pay in this hope? Hence, at one point the place looks like its holding some kind of en mass plate spinning event, so many heads swivelling in different directions.
- Nicer décor, nowhere to sit. I love plonking down somewhere comfy in a bar – it’s the only way to drink. But I’m informed by my friend, that all seats are reserved. Even the shy retiring banquette in the corner? The modish stool cum work-out apparatus? Apparently yes, all are booked up – despite the fact that they remain empty for the time being. So all around me, weary Londoners are shifting from foot to foot, looking enviously at unfurnished furnishings. This strikes me as Britishness at its most ridiculous – there are enough seats free for everyone, yet we prefer to queue and practice our passive aggressiveness. Someone who followed the rules and booked may show up and be horrified to find some royster-doyster in their seat.
- And this brings me to the staff. Wonderful and attentive as they are, beyond providing one with a constant supply of booze (2 cocktails and a bottle of Rose by this point), there’s not much they can do to relieve the situation. So we try some low level bartering…’We’ll see what we can do’….’You’re at the top of the list’…a constant reassurance of how popular one is, with no guaranteed results. Maybe this frustrating game of monopoly appeals to some, but I just find it ….frustrating.
So back to the first bottle of Rose, which has now been turned on its top and deposited on the bar. We’re onto the second – this is as thrillingly close to sampling the Bullingham Boys’ way of life as we get. Finally we are allowed table and nourishment. Never has it been so needed. We’re quite tipsy by now, so my notes get a little garbled, but I recall being led to a table on a lovely exposed terrace just outside the kitchen. Great, food is forthcoming. Another man in a white shirt greets us as old friends, so I assume he is a waiter. He steers us towards the fish. Now coming from Grimsby, my friend and I always have a line ready for this. Its not a good one, but it plugs the gap in conversation. This time Charlotte chips in with ‘Well, we’re from Grimsby, I think we’ve seen enough fish’. See, I told you it wasn’t a winner, but it usually raises some sort of smile. Instead, the waiter immediately breaks all ties with us as we decide to go with the cheese. It’s the only word I could make out on the menu in my half lit, half pissed state.
Cheese is rustic, served on a wooden board that I SWEAR has been stolen from my mother’s house circa 1983. Its fine, it all tastes of Rose by this point, anyway, but I can’t say that it feels like the sort of welcome sustenance one would appreciate at this stage of the evening. This may explain my surprising determination to find Pot Noodle when we eventually leave. The cab home is comfier than anywhere that I have sat throughout the preceding events.
I could talk about the toilets, that were lovely and the hallways, which were lovely and it was all lovely but it wasn’t a club. Not my club, the one I belong to in my head. I could also shamelessly borrow from Groucho Marx here, because I feel he has a point. I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me a member, but I’d like to add, if I may, that I don’t care to belong to any club that wouldn’t have me on the books, either. Not if they flatter to deceive in the way that tonight’s little haunt did. Smiling, welcoming, but a club to belong to? To aspire to? I’ll stick with Wetherspoons.