Gentlemen's Clubs

Athene atop her clubGentlemen's clubs are a unique feature of London (although copies exist in Paris) - the most exclusive, socially, are up St James's Street - Boodle's, Brooks' and White's - which you can make a detour to visit, if you wish. You won't get into any of them except the travellers, which has taken state restoration money and has to allow (rare) visits. Whites is the oldest of the clubs (at the top of St James on the left), founded in 1693 as a chocolate house - Beau Brummell, the archetypal dandy was a member here.. The clubs are usually full of whiskered old men, asleep under copies of the Times, for whom the Siege of Khartoum is a recent memory. They preserve traditions going back centuries, and have servants - making the place somewhat like a country club. Creditors are not allowed in so it's a safe refuge from the wife as well as one's tailor.

Members have to be proposed and seconded, and there's usually a waiting list before one goes up before the committee, who ascertain the candidate's suitability. Votes are done in secret, committee members placing either a white or black ball in a secret wooden contraption. One black ball and the candidate is rejected (hence the phrase 'being blackballed'). Even a Royal Proposer is no guarantee of admission. The Prince of Wales had to detain a certain committee member (George Selwyn, who'd blackballed the playwright Sheridan three times on the grounds that his father had been on the stage) in the hall, an invitation that could not be refused, while a fourth, successful ballot took place.

Club traditions are strange: the 'In and Out' had an 'inner club' one of whose members was a stuffed goat. At the Pratt club all the waiters are called George, such is the port-addled memory of its members. Traditionally you write your own food bill in the restaurants and there is no-tipping (but a collection at Christmas). Most maintain strict dress rules - the In & Out actually specifies that the top button of the compulsory shirt must be fastened and the compulsory tie knot pressed tight against the collar. The Athaneum has a sign stating that 'Ties must be worn at all times' below a nude statue.

At weekends you'll see scores of film trucks parked in Waterloo Place and along Pall Mall - the clubs that are only open weekdays hire themselves out as film sets at weekends. Guidebook to what to
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