There’s an old joke that if a group of bankers want to pay a visit to Soho House, they’d better hope the club needs some financial advice. Keen to preserve a ‘creative’ atmosphere, Nick Jones’s chain of private members’ clubs have developed a fearsome reputation over the years for banker-bashing. Members, who pay an annual fee of £1,400, have to prove their links to the ‘creative industries’ on application, and avoid wearing ties. Those deemed too ‘corporate’ despite this can find their membership abruptly ended.
This is not uncommon in the capital’s more exclusive clubs. While the Mayfair clubs, such as Annabel’s and 5 Hertford Street, still look to London society for much of their membership, several of Soho’s creative salons — from Blacks to the Groucho — have traditionally had a distinctly frosty approach to City slickers.
But now things are changing within the City itself. Various new super-private members’ clubs and hotels are popping up actually in the Square Mile.
Leading the charge is The Ned — the £200 million hotel project from none other than Soho House’s Nick Jones. Never mind that the club mogul was once sniffy about ‘corporate types’, he has now pitched his new club in a former bank. (Presumably it’s a coincidence that, north of the border, ‘Ned’ stands for ‘Non–educated delinquent’.) The former Midland Bank building — designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1928 — has gone from being the largest clearing-house bank in the world to an eight-storey club, hotel and restaurant complex with 1920s-inspired wallpaper and mahogany baths.
There is a much-Instagrammed swimming pool on the Ned’s rooftop, overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral, but the real treasure lies far below. In the old vaults, which still has its 20-tonne safe door (think Goldfinger) and 3,000 safe-deposit boxes, City traders can party after-hours. Right over the road from the Bank of England, the Ned’s dress code is simple — ‘Come as you wish’ — unlike at the nearby Shoreditch House, where a painting that reads ‘no suits’ hangs above the reception desk.
What Jones cites as a strong factor in changing his mind about the City is that the area is developing at such a furious pace. In nearby Devonshire Square, just two minutes from Liver-pool Street, is Brian Clivaz’s latest project, the Devonshire Club. With investment from the Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, and with Nigel Farage and Arron Banks among its visitors, this outlet has a less glamorous feel.
The club’s tagline is ‘Where Mayfair chic meets West End style’, and the ambition is to provide City folk with the kind of club on their doorstep that they would formerly have had to head west to find. Occupying an 18th-century former East India Company warehouse and a large Georgian townhouse, it takes up five floors and includes a beauty bar where female members can get ready for work. With membership at £2,400 per year and bars called Cocktail, Champagne and Library, it’s hardly an understated spot, but it’s pretty discreet thanks to the strict membership criteria.
Also new on the scene is the Curtain Hotel and Members’ Club, which opened last month. It brings a touch of Manhattan life to the City, with its Red Rooster restaurant — an outpost of the New York favourite where Boris Johnson was recently caught dancing with David Cameron. It’s a non-stuffy affair — De La Soul played at the launch — and it is likely to provide a home-from-home when US stars venture across the pond.
Not that they will be stuck for choice. Another A-list celebrity haunt is about to pitch up east, when Nobu Shoreditch arrives next month. Nobu is the creation of Nobu Matsuhisa, known for his mouthwatering Japanese–Peruvian cuisine. This is to be his first European hotel, and it is in a minimalist building of reinforced concrete, glass and steel. Shoreditch was picked as the location thanks to its history as one of London’s most culturally rich districts — with the artists’ studios on one side and the well-heeled financiers on the other.
With all the investment in the area, you’d be forgiven for asking why nobody did all this sooner. But it’s testament to how the finance industry has changed over the years that the surrounding nightlife has become so much more diverse. Gone are the days when City workers were expected to spend their nights in strip clubs drinking Flaming Sambucas.
Charlie Gilkes — director at Inception Group, which is behind London hotspots Bunga Bunga and Mr Foggs — has one explanation. ‘Friends of mine in the City have long talked about being underserved. Most places have traditionally been very male-orientated and were not especially female-friendly,’ he says. Now that more women are going into banking, ‘These opportunities have led to these club openings which have a greater appeal to both men and women.’
That’s not to say that the City is about to become London’s club hotspot just yet. Guillaume Glipa is the executive director of the Birley Clubs, which include Mark’s Club and Annabel’s, and says the lure of Mayfair remains. ‘Those days are not over,’ she says. ‘But clubs are opening up in other parts of London that suit different types of members. Mayfair’s private clubs have certainly inspired these openings.’ As a symbol of Mayfair’s enduring appeal, a new Annabel’s will open at the end of this year on Berkeley Square.
Aside from turf wars with London’s longer-standing clubs, the biggest challenge for these new City establishments will be Brexit. The next few years , while the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU are decided, will be a very uncertain time in the capital’s finance sector. In fact everyone, from the French President Emmanuel Macron to Frankfurt politicians, seems intent on trying to tempt the City’s highest-earners away.
Should Jones, Clivaz and co be concerned?
‘Clearly Brexit is a worry as firms may relocate staff to other countries, meaning there fewer customers for London’s clubs and restaurants,’ Gilkes admits. But there’s still reason to look on the bright side. If all these new openings tell us anything, it’s that bankers like to work hard and play hard. The idea of having to relocate to the suburban climes of Frankfurt is not one that will be met with great enthusiasm. The more the City has on offer to tempt banks and bankers to stay, the better.