Get us in your inbox

Search

Your shout: Gail Tolley - 'Members' clubs are leftovers of a lost world'

By Gail Tolley
Advertising

Private members' clubs are all the rage in London: just one reason to avoid them like the plague. 

Before I moved to London, I had only the foggiest idea of what private members' clubs were. I assumed they were remnants of a lost world: bastions of exclusivity filled with cigar smoke, leftovers from the era of smog, gravedigger strikes and sexist adverts for kitchen appliances.

But here I am living in the capital in 2016 and I can't help noticing how wrong I was. Private members' clubs are everywhere. New ones pop up every month. Granted, they're not all mahogany and leather, like the establishments of yesteryear - today's version is more rooftop pools, meeting rooms and check-out-how-buff-I-am gyms - but they're still rooted on a basic premise that I find a bit, well, objectionable.

The point of the modern members' club is the same as the point of the traditional members' club: to keep most people out. They're only open to those who can afford hefty fees, or meet some ludicrous entry criteria. And what I find even more disturbing than their continued existence into the twenty-first century is that no one seems to have a problem with it.

My generation is quick to call out inequality. We quite rightly want to abolish the tampon tax, end body-shaming bikini adverts and support our local independent shops, all while sipping an organic fairtrade coffee. But offer us an Instagrammable bar only accessible to a select few and we're fighting each other to get in.

I wouldn't be the first to point out this contradiction in millennial thinking. But private members' clubs do seem to have got a grip on modern London, more so than any other city I know. I wonder if part of the reason is that we're lonely. If you're anything like me, your family is scattered around the country, you see your friends in snatched moments between long days at the office and battling with your ever-growing pile of laundry, and the only time you meet your neighbours is when they take in your Amazon delivery. But thanks to a monthly direct debit, you can step through the doors of somewhere you immediately belong, and isn't that a reassuring feeling?

The idea that you have to pay to feel like you belong in London is repulsive, but I have another, more fundamental, issue with these places. For me, they are the very opposite of all I love about this city. When you make somewhere exclusive, you breed homogeneity: you create a tiny world where the people are the same, with the same values, the same aspirations, hell, probably even the same brand of underwear. Cities are defined by their mix of the odd and mundane, the cool and the weird, the glam and the glum. London is at its most interesting and relatable beyond the sheen of pictureperfect decor and glamorous people, when you discover its rough edges and its messy contradictions. You don't find that London - the real, contradictory, not-always-cool London - behind a door policy or governed by house rules.

Plus, let's face it, there's no chance of them letting me in.

Illustration: Nate Kitch

Want more ranting and raving? Read Eddy Frankel's column on why new year's resolutions are the worst

Popular on Time Out

    Latest news

      Read next

        Advertising