Born from the 17th-century coffee houses, London’s private members’ clubs have been a mainstay of the city’s social scene for hundreds of years. Today, these enclaves of exclusivity are where the great and the good gather to dine, drink, socialise and work – in exchange for often ostentatiously expensive membership fees.
Two larger-than-life figures loom over the London private members’ clubs scene: Robin Birley and Richard Caring. Pitted against each other in the press, these two power-players lay claim to the biggest names in the business.
What sets London’s best private members’ clubs apart? Discretion, of course, is key for many. New arrival Maison Estelle excels in this field, keeping all details of its members-only offering under wraps. Others promise opportunities to network (Ten Trinity Square, 12 Hay Hill) or slip into headline-making after-parties (The Twenty-Two).
The chance to rub shoulders with the upper echelons is undoubtedly a draw: just ask anyone who has dined alongside the royals at Oswald’s.
The most famous among them is Annabel’s, founded by Birley’s father Mark and now owned by Caring, but there is plenty of competition for the crown.
Thinking about signing up? Spear’s shares a list of London’s best private members’ clubs below…
The best private members’ clubs in London
5 Hertford Street
Dubbed the ‘most influential private members’ club in the world’ by Spear’s own editor-in-chief Edwin Smith, 5 Hertford Street has been a sensation from the moment it opened its doors in 2012.
5HS was founded by Robin Birley, son of the late, great London private members’ club titan Mark Birley, whose empire included Mark’s Club, George, Harry’s Bar and the Bath & Racquets Club (all of which were sold to Richard Caring in 2007).
It has also become a place where meetings of consequence are conducted; a crucible, where momentous decisions are mulled and then made.
The club’s exclusive clientele has been built on a foundation of 500 founding members, assembled by Birley with the help of Hugh Warrender, an Old Etonian. OEs are prevalent, as are Old Marlburians.
Downstairs at 5 Hertford Street is the perennially cool nightclub Loulou’s – named after Birley’s cousin, the YSL muse Loulou de la Falaise.
Membership fee: Becoming a member of 5 Hertford Street isn’t easy, but if you do get in, prices start at £1,800 a year.
Almost as soon as Mark Birley opened Annabel’s in 1963 it became the place to be – and to be seen. Names from Frank Sinatra to Charles and Diana, Aristotle Onassis and Richard Nixon were welcomed over the years and it was the only nightclub ever visited by the Queen.
Sold to Richard Caring in 2007 as the jewel in the crown of the Birley Clubs collection, Annabel’s now resides at 46 Berkeley Square, two doors down from its original site.
It remains the grand dame of London’s private members’ club scene, 60 years on. Few are more famous than Annabel’s and an evening in its sumptuous interiors remains as enticing a prospect as ever.
‘I wanted to create the idea of a home within a townhouse that was fresh for the greatest party of the season,’ designer Martin Brudnizki said of the interiors. ‘You can wear all your jewellery, your evening bag, your fur stole, it’s party time when you walk in.’
Certainly, the gaggle of It-girls, art collectors and fashion insiders who teeter through the doors would agree.
Membership fee: A full annual option costs £3,750 alongside a £1,850 joining fee. An under-35s annual membership comes at a reduced rate of £2,250, plus a £600 joining fee.
One of the newest additions to the list of London’s best private members’ clubs, Maison Estelle has wasted no time in establishing itself as a serious power-player.
The club, which promises a taste of the ‘traditions and glamour of country life’, is housed in a grand 18th-century Grade I-listed townhouse on Grafton Street, just a stone’s throw from Caring’s Berkeley Square stronghold.
Unlike some of its peers, however, Maison Estelle has been able to cultivate a true sense of intrigue by flying deliberately under the radar. Privacy and discretion are valued so highly that phones are taken at the door (no sneaky loo selfies here!) and no images of the interiors have ever been released to the press.
Fortunately its sister establishment, Estelle Manor, has a far more open-door policy. This hotel and country manor has won plaudits since opening in Oxfordshire earlier this year.
Both were created by Sharan Pasricha, the Founder of Ennismore, the group behind the Hoxton and Gleneagles.
Membership fee: On application.
Ten Trinity Square Private Club
Set within the former headquarters of the Port of London Authority, Ten Trinity Square styles itself as a unique partnership between the investment group Reignwood, vineyard Château Latour and the Four Seasons hotel group.
The club, occupying a quiet out-of-the-way section of the building, features lavish yet discreet rooms, letting members escape the demands of City life whilst enjoying high-end cultural and gourmet experiences.
Membership gives access to the Four Seasons Spa, featuring a sleek 14m indoor pool, hammam room, 12m vitality pool, sauna and steam room. There is also reciprocal club memberships dotted across the world.
Ten Trinity Square club manager Jason Ling tells Spear’s that the club seeks to stay true to its host building’s legacy as a centre for trade and the exchange of ideas, as it welcomes leaders and thinkers from diverse industries to share ideas and nurture relationships. ‘Hidden in plain sight and cherished by those who know, the club is rich in heritage with a future-facing philosophy,’ he adds.
Membership fee: Around £3,000 per year.
Behind an unassuming door on Albemarle Street in Mayfair is Oswald’s – perhaps the most exclusive London private members’ club of all. Boris and Carrie Johnson, Ben Elliot, the Blairs, Prince William… the list of this club’s fans reads like the ultimate power list.
Its status at the pinnacle of British high society was confirmed in May 2023 when Oswald’s hosted an unofficial pre-coronation gathering for senior members of the British royal family and visiting dignitaries.
Guests dine beneath high ceilings on food by head chef Gianluca Cossu. Interiors are by Tom Bell and Bruce Cavell.
The person behind this success story? Robin Birley, naturally. It opened in 2018 and has been described as his ‘home-from-home’ (he reportedly lunches at Oswald’s most days). The club is named after his grandfather Sir Oswald Birley, whose portrait hangs behind the reception.
Membership fee: Not disclosed
For 23 years The Walbrook has been London’s only family-run private members’ club. While it’s situated at the core of the Square Mile, sandwiched somewhat ignominiously between Starbucks and the Walbrook Building offices, its red-brick exterior and traditional design evokes the countryside.
It was born as the office of late property developer Rudolph Palumbo and his son Lord Peter Palumbo, but the club itself was founded by Mark Birley.
The Walbrook is has just 600 members, and naturally, given its proximity to NM Rothschild and the Bank of England, the lucky few are mostly in the field of finance and business. Status or wealth are not the only parameters for entry, however, and are not enough to guarantee a spot.
Membership fee: The Walbrook keeps this information under wraps, but it is estimated to be around £750 a year.
Quintessential Englishness reigns supreme at this Mayfair club, which was opened by Mark Birley in 1972 as an alternative to the gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s.
Mark’s is a home-from-home for members, including regular Princess Michael of Kent, who come for the traditional décor, English cuisine and comfortable surroundings.
It is where David Cameron, Samantha Cameron and George Osborne celebrated their election victory in 2015.
But everything is soon set to change. Owner Richard Caring, who bought Mark’s Club, like so many others on this list, from Robin Birley, is set to relocate the private members’ club from Charles Street to Berkeley Square. It will place the establishment alongside Annabel’s and his Instagram-friendly restaurant Sexy Fish.
The 1,500-strong membership will no doubt be hoping the high standards remain.
Membership fee: The joining fee is not disclosed, but annual membership is around £2,000.
12 Hay Hill
The old adage goes that one should never mix business with pleasure. However, that’s the entire premise of 12 Hay Hill, which combines the luxury of a private members’ club with the convenience of a co-working space.
‘Clubs were traditionally social places, where holding a meeting or doing work was seen to be very bad form,’ spokesman Hugo Campbell-Davys told Spear’s shortly after the club opened on Berkeley Square in 2014. ‘At Hay Hill, we want to keep that social feel, but also allow meetings and mobile phone use, creating an atmosphere that doesn’t feel like a sterile, corporate hotel lobby.’
There are lounges, desks, meeting rooms, telephone booths – everything one might need.
Menus are seasonal, delicious and reasonably priced. The roof terrace offers views across Mayfair whilst the basement bar was carved from an old bank vault.
The need has never been greater. Former urbanites who moved out during lockdown have a need for a sophisticated city base where they can work and hold meetings – and they don’t come much classier than 12 Hay Hill.
Membership fees: Alongside a £750 joining fee, annual membership, starts at £1,600 for 20 visits, while business membership begins at £3,200 for 48 visits per year. Premier membership, which allows unlimited visits, costs £3,800.
The Ivy Club
The Ivy, the West End stalwart once frequented by Sir Laurence Olivier, Viviene Leigh and Noël Coward, expanded with the addition of The Ivy Club in 2008.
Part of the Caring-owned Ivy Collection, The Ivy Club is spread across three floors which offer members to drink, dine and listen to live music in the lounge.
Like many of Caring’s properties, the club’s Art Deco-inspired interiors are the work of Brudnizki.
Unlike other members’ clubs on this list, the joining process is clear and easy to discern online. There are discounts for under-35s, too, making it an ideal starter club for young HNWs looking to make their first foray onto the scene.
Membership fee: individual membership £1,250 (+ £500 joining fee), with discounts and other packages available.
The Arts Club
With Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and Lord Leighton as founding members, The Arts Club was destined for greatness. Founded in 1863, the club’s original list of membership reads like a who’s who of art history greats: Millais, Monet, Rodin and Degas all walked through the doors of this Mayfair institution.
More recently, it has hosted modern movers and shakers in the creative industries: Grayson Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow are both members.
Membership grants access to exclusive events like performances and art exhibitions (The Arts Club also has an impressive permanent collection).
Membership fees: £2,800 per annum, with a £2,000 joining fee. Discounted rates are available.
The Twenty Two
Part hotel, part private members’ club, The Twenty-Two was the talk of the town when it arrived on Grosvenor Square in 2022.
Although non-members can book a night in one of the 31 rooms and suites, or a table at the round-the-clock restaurant, a Twenty-Two membership grants access to exclusive parts of the hotel including the basement club, which is described as a ‘cross between Studio 54 and ‘Maxim’s in Paris.’
It was founded by hotelier and restaurateur Navid Mirtorabi, former owner of Blakes, and Jamie Reuben, scion of the billionaire Reuben dynasty. Managing director Darius Namdar, the driving force behind the sensational launch of Chiltern Firehouse, is a veteran of the Wolseley and a number of Birley Clubs.
Situated at the back of Bacchanalia, Richard Caring’s unashamedly opulent new restaurant, Apollo’s Muse is definitely the best London private members’ club for those who relish being OTT.
Like the main restaurant, Apollo’s Muse is marble and gold fever dream adorned with ancient Greek and Roman artwork and sculptures, complete with plush velvet furnishings and ornate interior touches.
It was originally reported that just 500 memberships would be offered. However, it seems hopeful Apollo’s Muse card holders might be in luck – the applications section of the website remains open.