July 24, 2020
The Daily Telegraph – 18 July 2020
Stars are leading the well-heeled crowd back to London’s most exclusive spots
The rich and famous are cautiously out and about again, thanks to the re-opening of many of the capital’s exclusive private members clubs on July 4th.
That very night, Lily James and Captain America’s Chris Evans reportedly rekindled their romance at Mark’s Club in Mayfair, while Ed Westwick and his girlfriend Tamara Francesconi were seen leaving the reopening party at Annabel’s in Berkeley Square before jetting off to the Amalfi Coast. In the early hours of July 9, Amber Heard was spotted leaving Oswald’s private members club with her sister, blowing off steam after day two of court hearings in Johnny Depp’s explosive libel case against The Sun.
Richard Caring, owner of Birley Clubs, is delighted that he’s been given the green light to reopen his clubs, which include both Annabel’s and Mark’s Club.
“Membership of a private club is really like having a home from home,” he says. “You are comfortable there, to eat and drink with your friends in calm and beautiful surroundings. This is what we have all been missing in lockdown: a sense of community and togetherness. Since we have reopened it’s been heart-warming to see our members back enjoying their clubs. It’s the little things they have missed, a cocktail whilst sitting at the bar, a conversation with a friend over dinner!’
But this return involves a number of new precautions. “Health and safety has always been paramount to us, however we have gone over and above what is required of us regarding Covid-19 safety measures;’ says Caring.
All of this is part of making his members feel welcome. “Our clubs will only continue to thrive if they have love and care and, of course, investment injected into them on a daily basis. They must create a haven where the member feels appreciated and valued, if not a little spoiled. You hear the phrase ‘love thy neighbour’, the clubs must love their members.”
The very best of London’s private members clubs have matters in hand, from reduced capacities to enhanced cleaning and digital approaches. This is how they are opening, steadily, across the capital.
The wine lovers’ den 67 Pall Mall unlocked its doors on July 4, with impressive measures in place. Members clamored for a reservation when booking lines opened 10 days before liftoff. Bookings for the first service were done via ballot.
For their first dining experience since lockdown was imposed on March 26 and, members were treated to club favourites of scotch egg and the house burger. Strictly no phones were allowed: this was about the simple things – great food, fine wine and being together again.
Much had changed to make such a swift opening possible. The layout of the club has been rejigged in order to meet distancing mies in the public areas and back of house. New oak and rattan paneling has been installed from the main entrance of the members’ lounge through to the bar, creating a protected route that screens off diners from those entering and leaving the members’ lounge and the club room.
During lockdown a refurbishment of the lounge took place, with new furniture, sky blue walls, new carpets and re-polished oak floors. There is now a one-way-system, such that people will make their way to and from the club room via different routes. Hand sanitizer stations have been dotted around the club, and doors have been wedged open so that they don’t need to be pushed or pulled. Before reopening, the club was given a deep clean, and is now subject to a vigorous hourly cleaning regime.
Perhaps most importantly, while chef Marcus Verberne’s summer menu has been condensed, the Club has bumped its wine list up by 1,000. Members now have a choice of over 6,000 wines, from 2005 Chateau Montrose, 2eme Cru Classe (at £258) to a magnum of 2015 Chardonnay, Coal River Valley, Tolpuddle Vineyard (£171).
Service is slightly altered. Nowadays, the waiter will leave your bottle on the table and expect you to pour for yourself. Of course, if you prefer the sommelier to dispense the wine, he can do so with gloved hands.
The team wasn’ t twiddling its thumbs during lockdown, mind. A new ‘virtual membership’ category was launched, which attracted almost 500 new members to virtual wine tastings (sometimes as many as five per day). For £10 per month (for now) the events take in food and wine from ‘every region and every budget’.
Members were also given credit throughout lockdown, and various ways of ‘cashing in’, from putting it towards an upgrade to a five-year membership, to using it against any bills in the club. It seems 67 Pall Mall found no shortage of ways to rally the troops when times got tough.
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