Private members clubs are often the backbone of a civilized inner London social life; when the pubs are rammed on a Saturday night and the bars of Shaftesbury Avenue don’t bear thinking about a private members club is infinitely preferable. It’s like comparing the private healthcare ward with the NHS ward. Yes, we know the NHS ward / bar are for everyone and yes, we all understand our national right to use them, but wouldn’t it be more pleasant to have a bar / ward where you are less likely to slip on urine and vomit and where the drugs are dispensed with decorum and respect? Many people on their first experience in a private members club are shocked by the atmostphere – by the distinct lack of threat and fear that overwhelms people who are used to London nightlife. People leave their bags and drinks unattended. Everyone smiles at everyone. However, it’s not all roses – if your idea of hell is getting cornered by an aspiring script writer with halitosis who wants to sell you his latest, diabolically un-chuckleworthy scribblings, then a corner table at Century may not be for you. In the main, though, once you start going to private members clubs, you stop going anywhere else if at all possible.
The most recent addition to the over-priced and not-at-all-humble cluster of member bars in the West End is The Arts Club in Dover Street. Now, this is a new club, which is actually a resurrection of an old club that was started in 1863, for artists. Here is the paradox : annual club fees have always been expensive (generally more than your gym and a bit less than your mortgage). The only people who can afford to join them, lunch in them, pay their drinks prices and generally engage in the air of raucous tomfoolery in them, are the rich. These are a small-known, distinct breed known as richus richus found in its natural habitat of east of SW15 and west of Piccadilly, and which is found in the watering holes and oases of Chelsea mid-week and half way up a royal at weekends. Artists, however, are very rarely rich. The Arts Club wants all of the bohemian pose of artistry without dealing with the dirt of art. The club that once boasted Trollope and Dickens amongst the distinguished members propping up the Friday night bar now needs the Euro Rich, The Bond Broker, the Investment Banker and the Solicitor. They need them economically, but have no use for them philosophically. This is because they are an Arts Club, darling. The upper middle class bourgeoisie must therefore altruistically align themselves with the idea of art, be accustomed to pretending to be artists, pretending to collect artists work, or pretending to sleep with artists. This is the ultimate pose. If there’s one thing worse than an overly-posing artist, it’s an overly-artistic posing quantity surveyor in shabby chic haute couture. Artists have to put up with a whole load of shit : penury, lack of understanding, the difficulty of finding like-minded people to relate to, the constant and implausible rejection. One of the pay offs is you get to have a little coolness, a shrug of hipness, something free in the spirit, something dreamy in the mind and you get to stay up swilling champagne half the night because you probably don’t have to clock in in the morning. But The Arts Club has priced out the artists. So they don’t even have their own space to inhabit in London’s city life. The opportunity of networking, conviviality, and enterprising suppers in The Arts Club is denied them.
The rules scrape against the very bottom of the barrel of ostentatious idiocy:
“Members or their guests who cause nuisance in such manner (mobile phones on) will have their equipment confiscated and may be asked to leave the club.”
Blimey – it’s not school, you know – or a library. On one page of the rules and bye-laws it states the club exists for social interaction and the encouragement of networking, and on the next page the idea that the Iphone or mobile phone, despite being integral to this, is so banned. What do they do if you phone sends out the vulgar trill of an arriving call? Put you in Art detention?
In consideration of our neighbours, members are required to leave the premises quietly at all times and to ensure the quiet departure of their guests. Smoking will be permitted in the garden until 9.30pm and on the veranda between 3pm and 6pm.
Stupid. Only the very rich, very mad live in W1, an enormous percentage of them are only in their pied a terres on a part-time basis anyway. A W1 resident complaining about the noise of clubs, is like someone who moves into a whorehouse and complains about the knickers on display. And what the fark is this claptrap about smoking? I remember when smoking in nightclubs was mandatory, for God’s sake. In the 1990s you were imprisoned if you didn’t have a packet of Rothsmans permanently stapled to your hand. But now smokers are the devil. Presumably the veranda has a restaurant on it hence the 6pm curfew time despite the fact that you are OUTSIDE. And does anyone care if anyone smokes in the garden after 9.30pm? The only people in the garden at 9.30pm at The Arts Club will be Damien Hirst and a few doggers, and they won’t mind.
Members, guests and strangers must be appropriately attired at all times. The Secretary’s decision is final in all matters relating to dress.
Hmmm. This doesn’t explain what Tracey Emin is doing on Page 4 of the Helvetica font brochure with her tits hanging out. Presumably if you are a real artist, they fetishize you. In which case, you can wear whatever the hell you like. Come on, kids – we all know that if a world famous artist rocked up in his nipple clamps, fur bikini and moonboots, and came in brandishing a gun on one arm and Jay Jopling on the other, they’d let the bastard in quicker than you could say “White Cube”. Not because he’s an artist, but because he’s a celebrity artist. Let’s be honest: this suitable attire business applies only to the proles who want to sniff a bit of artist’s paint and get a buzz out of joining in the first place because they’re NUMPTIES who think if they play their cards right they’ll be granted access to some Lewis Carroll-esque imaginary nirvana where artists will share their secrets of fabulousness and the ordinary member can cease feeling so mundane.
No food or drink shall be consumed in the Club or cigar smoked in the garden unless purchased from the Club.
So, first of all, no smoking on the veranda after 6pm. Secondly, if you choose to smoke a cigar before 6pm you have to prove you’ve bought it on the premises. Are these people simple? Are they certifiable? Is this actually a club for human beings? What if I’m a pipe smoker? Has no one thought this through?
Children will be permitted up until 6pm, when accompanied by a parent.
It’s The Arts Club, not the One o Clock Club. Most of the deviances and decadences that go on are unsuitable for the under 14s, and if you’re joining a club that isn’t deviant and decadent and a little bit cheeky and unkempt – well, then, why bother?
No drunkenness, bad language or other misconduct is permitted”
Cast of TOWIE please note. However, these rules conflict with the vomit-inducing let-it-all-hang-out spiel in the A4 handbook, which states “There is no code in our bar or anywhere else in the club for that matter. Do what thou wilt”. This Club can’t make up it’s mind whether to be artistically lawless or – well, just a bit dull. Thou? Good Lord.
Members introducing guests are wholly responsible for the conduct of such guests.
This is a worry and headache for anyone signing in their “friends” into any London members club. It’s standard policy that you must be responsible for the human flotsam and jetsam you drag in with you after a night’s heavy shot-drinking in Frith Street. Last year at a gathering, a family member signed 15 of us into the Groucho Club at one in the morning. From that point forward, he was unable to enjoy his night at all, as he was convinced one of our rogue content, a piano player, would start a fight with Sheridan Smith from Legally Blonde and we’d all get the blame for it. He didn’t. He started a fight with someone else and threw up into the coatstand. Then the birthday boy’s wife came undone after too many espresso martinis.
The Chairman’s called Gary, which is never a good thing.
At least the Groucho is a rancid old drunks club full of miserable hacks and coke addicts, and pretends to be nothing more than a rancid old drunks club full of miserable hacks and coke addicts. It is what it is and it knows its horror. But The Arts Club sounds downright naff and banal. And, frankly, I’d pay £2,000 a year not to see Tracy Emin’s cleavage. AND nothing of any fashionable note can ever really take place in Dover Street, because no one can take a street seriously when it has been named after a fish. I’ll stick to what I know, thank you, and take the vomiting piano players of the Groucho over the supercilious preciousness of The Arts Club any day. Espresso martini, anyone?
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