Inside the secret world of London's private members' clubs

What goes on inside London's private members' clubs? Time Out gets seven readers to reveal all
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The club for… trendy eastenders The King's Head 257 Kingsland Rd, E2 8AS The King's Head is a recently launched, clandestine Dalston club for those working in the creative industries. DJ and main designer at Nok Nok Denim, Angel Nokonoko is a member. What do you like about the King's Head?‘The outside is run down so you would never expect it to be here. You need to know it's here. And you get – maybe – more of a particular type of person coming.’ What type of person?‘The commitee are quite selective about who they pick, depending on what the person does, but they tend to go for arties, designers, people in the music industry.’ How often do you visit? ‘At least once a month because I DJ here. But you can book the butterfly room [the walls are lined with display cases of specimens] or the animal room [full of taxidermy mammals] and have dinner, so I like to do that when I've got people round.’ What's the vibe? ‘It varies. In the day they have yoga and drawing classes. And then it starts to kick off around midnight or 1am. There's a lot of people moving around the different floors – I play oldies on the ground floor and it's more dancey in the basement. It's open until 5am so you can come here after you've been out.’ Tell us about one of your favourite nights at the club. ‘I once brought Lee scratch Perry here. He was like a little kid taking pictures. He's this old-school Jamaican Rastafari, so he doesn't believe in doing this [points to the towering taxidermy polar bear]. We had to tell him it's fake. It's not.’ So where did the stuffed animals comes from? They're secondhand. I know the story but I can't really tell you that. They come from somewhere far, far away. I want in! You'll need a committee member to act as your referee. It's £325 a year or £200 for under-27s. Read more about The King's Head Pic: Ed Marshall
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The club for… celebs Annabel's 44 Berkeley Square, W1J 5QB Annabel's is one of London's most famous private members' clubs, best known for its celebrity clientele. Stylist, blogger and socialite Roxie Nafousi is a member.  Why did you join? ‘The Beatles used to come here and I am obsessed with The Beatles. Annabel's has so much history and tradition that when you're inside, you feel like you're part of swinging London.’ What's the vibe? ‘It's so weird because on the one hand, there's a strict dress code and an elegant, mature atmosphere. On the other, it's so cosy that it's almost like being at home.’ Your favourite night? ‘They had a party a couple of weeks ago to celebrate the screening of "A String of Naked Lightbulbs", a documentary about the club. People lost their inhibitions because everyone was in a room of like-minded people. Kate Moss was DJing, Grace Jones was hula-hooping. I mean, Scary Spice was here, how cool is that?’ Is it worth the membership? ‘Definitely. You're in another world – and you can't put a price on that.’ I want in! It's one of London's most exclusive clubs so don't expect to just breeze in. You have to be proposed and seconded by existing members before submitting an application. A committee then decides. Fees start at £350 annually for under-30s, going up to £1,250. Read more about Annabel's Pic: Ed Marshall
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The club for… Soho culture lovers The Club at Café Royal 68 Regent St, W1B 4DY The Club at Café Royal is in a haunt once frequented by both Oscar Wilde and Princess Diana (not at the same time).  Artist Alexandra James is a member. Why did you join? ‘I used to come to Café Royal when I was 18, before it was a club. I was a young, scruffy artist with a borrowed tuxedo sitting around these old gentleman's-style boxing matches upstairs. When I found out the place had been restored, I put my artwork forward, and now that they've got that I have to keep coming!’ When do you visit the club? ‘I come in every day. First I work from dawn til two in my studio, then I jump on my bicycle and come here, and there'll be a martini waiting for me. It's frenetic out there and I like the way that this place is not.’ How does it help you as an artist? ‘If I was in the studio, I'd probably be getting drunk. But you've got to pay for the drinks here, so I'm behaving myself and that's good for sustaining productivity.’ I want in! You need to be proposed by two club members. Once you're in, it costs £1,200 a year plus a £1,200 joining fee. Read more about Club at Café Royal Pic: Ed Marshall
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The club for… social entrepeneurs The Impact Hub 34b York Way, N1 9AB Branches in Brixton, Westminster and Angel Impact Hub is a global network of clubs for those working in social enterprises, with four branches in London. Esther Foreman, who founded The Social Change Agency in 2013, is a member. How do you spend your time at the club? ‘I come in, clutching my coffee, holding loads of bags, and go upstairs – and just work. It’s like a library visit during your A-levels. But I also run workshops for clients here, and sometimes I’ll come to the evening events.’ How do you think Impact Hub has helped your business? ‘When you set up your own business, it’s quite a lonely path and the Hub helped it seem less daunting. Impact Hub not only provided me with a place to work, it connected me to other people who understood what I was going through. And they run really good business courses here – accountancy, funding, that kind of thing.’ What are the other members like? ‘It’s a really supportive network. There’s an email list which means I can put a call out – “Right, does anyone know this?” – and there’ll be 50 answers back immediately. Then there’s Andy, who’s like our resident monk: he does mindfulness and meditation every Monday.’ I want in! It’s targeted at social enterprises but anyone can join. Prices vary, depending on what you want out of the Hub, starting from £20 a month. Read more about Club at Café Royal Pic: Ed Marshall
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The club for… book lovers The Society Club 12 Ingestre Place, W1F OJF The Society Club in Soho is described as a members’ club for the ‘literarily inclined’. Architect Will Caradoc-Hodgkins is a regular. Why did you join? ‘I love the unpretentious quality of the place, the people who come here, and Babette the owner, who’s always been a Soho lady. I treat the club like my local: I know a goodly number of the people here, so I can just come in for a chat.’’ How often do you visit? ‘At least once a week. I have an office around the corner that I’ve worked in for 20 years, so I feel this is my neighbourhood. The club officially shuts its doors at 11pm – but often we crawl out of here at 4am.’ How does the membership work? ‘You pay £175 and then you have £175 credit to buy books, so it’s effectively free, but it allows the club to help the publishing industry generally. Babette knows my tastes and makes recommendations. Occasionally she lets me know about a hideously expensive book that she’s found.’ What’s the crowd like? ‘They’re an eclectic, bohemian bunch. I’m about the straightest person here! When I first walked in, a long time ago, I thought: I belong here. And that’s such a nice feeling.’ I want in! Go for it. The club currently has no vetting process. Drop Babette a line – babette@thesocietyclub.com – and be prepared to cough up £175 to spend on books. Read more about The Society Club Pic: Ed Marshall
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The club for… high flyers The Club at Café Royal 1-5 West St, WC2H 9NE The Club at Café Royal is in a haunt once frequented by both Oscar Wilde and Princess Diana (not at the same time).  Artist Alexandra James is a member. Why did you join? ‘We set up our global executive search business in 2006 and decided to join The Ivy’s club because when we meet people for interviews, chats and whatever, they love coming here. They all think it’s a bit of a treat.’ Why is it special? ‘It gives you the ability to have a totally private, confidential conversation in a relaxed, vibey place.’ How often do you come here? ‘I probably come here every day, mainly for business. Even with a big event, every single person who comes in is made to feel a bit special.’ The Ivy is a world-famous restaurant – what’s the food like in the club? ‘Breakfast is excellent: they do a delicious full English. It’s quite a British menu – they always have a roast and a club pie.’ And your favourite thing about it? ‘The Twinkle! It’s the most delicious cocktail.’ I want in! Good luck. It’s strictly by invitation only, but if you want to give it a shot, email membership@the-ivyclub.co.uk. Prices available upon application. Read more about The Ivy Club Pic: Ed Marshall
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The club for… war reporters The Frontline Club 13 Norfolk Place, W2 1QJ The Frontline Club is a gathering place for journalists, photographers and cameramen working in conflict zones. David Loyn, the BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent, is a member. Why was it set up? ‘When video journalist Vaughan Smith stopped the Frontline News Television agency, I think he felt he couldn’t quite close down Frontline altogether. He started this club because he wanted to commemorate people who had died reporting in conflict zones. We stand for the independence and the integrity of journalists.’ What goes on here? ‘Effectively, it’s three different businesses: a restaurant on the ground floor, which is open to the public, the private club on the next floor, and above that there’s the forum where events are held.’ What kind of events? ‘We hold public meetings, debates and screenings. Members get free entry. There’s nowhere else in London where you can get 120 experts and people with a real interest talking about some ghastly massacre or how to report it. There isn’t a sponsor or a trade union involved, no think tank, nobody’s being paid. There’s only the spirit of honest inquiry.’ Any members we might have heard of? ‘Before anyone knew who Julian Assange was you’d come in here late at night and he’d be sitting there, framed only by the light from his Mac. The Frontline Club and the New Statesman co-hosted a debate with Assange, one of his only appearances before he ended up in a room in Knightsbridge under rather bizarre circumstances.’ I want in! You’ll need two Frontline Club members to recommend you. It costs £35 a month, £325 a year, £1,300 for five years or, for the truly committed, £5,000 for life. Read more about The Frontline Club Pic: Ed Marshall
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