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  1. Luxury
August 31, 2006

The Naked Lunch

By Spear's

Striking a deal in the buff? No sweat at the Bath & Racquets Club, says Nicholas Coleridge

Striking a deal in the buff? No sweat at the Bath & Racquets Club, says Nicholas Coleridge

Quite frequently in the afternoon, in the middle of an overstuffed schedule of meetings and telephone conferences, just when I am approaching breaking point and the whole made world is going mad around me, the magic words ‘Bath & Racquets Club’ float into my head and 15 minutes later, I am sitting in the marble steam room, wonderfully revitalised.

I’ve always though of the B&R as a lifesaver, the most discreet and elegant gym in London – probably in the world, actually – tucked away in a cavernous basement in Brook’s Mews, directly behind Claridge’s.

In a way, the B&R is the necessary antidote to all the other clubs in the Birley portfolio, the final curve in the virtuous circle. You fatten yourself up at Mark’s Club, Harry’s Bar, George, and the rest of them; dance some of it off again at Annabel’s; and then work of the rest at B&R.

Rapidly approaching its 15th birthday, the steam and sweat sanctuary remains architecturally matchless. The gym area – with its double-height ceiling, hi-tech weights equipment, Persian rugs, and Art Deco artwork – is spectacular.

There are squash courts, rowing machines, exercise bikes with video screens, and a black marble massage room featuring muscular Russian masseurs. Indeed, the steam room itself, a seductive hammam lined with Breche violent marble, is one of the great treats of London.

I have heard the B&R described as ‘London’s most influential pawnbroker’s club’, but nothing about it is that overt. In a typical afternoon you can expect to see half a dozen investment bankers on the running machines, dashing property tycoons on the Stairmaster, a handful of Politicians, PR and advertising gurus watching sport on plasma screens, sever Greek shipping billionaires, a couple of sheikhs in the locker room, and the odd Indian Maharajah.

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Recently I was in the hammam and, through swirls of steam, found myself face to face with a world-famous, stark-naked rock star. Not that I said anything – at the B&R you instinctively respect other members’ privacy.

It is a little known fact that, several years ago, a major libel suit was resolved in the steam room, just weeks before the case was due to be heard at the Old Bailey. One of the Condé Nast magazines I publish was being sued for tens of millions of pounds by a famous department store tycoon.

Both sides had become more and more entrenched; the case was expected to last for three weeks. It would have been one of the most gripping trials of all time, with dozens of witnesses lined up on each side.

At the 11th hour a peace deal was proposed, but where could it be brokered? In the steam room at the B&R, suggested the other side: ‘That way we’ll both know we’re not wired.’ The deal was done in 20 minutes, which was just as since it becoming awfully hot in there.

There are two notable cushy things about the club. The first is that you don’t need to bring any exercise clothes with you. Everything is provided: shorts, shirt, socks, and jockstrap.

You present yourself at a counter and a charming Polish woman hands out the uniform, having enquired: ‘Small, medium, large or extra-large?’ I’ve never heard anyone ask for a small jockstrap. When you’ve finished, you simply drop the clothes in a laundry basket, so there’s no sweaty kit about.

The other incredible boon is the instruction. There are always plenty of super-athletic men and women on duty, prepared to leap forward and that you through your paces on the machines or the mats. It is amusing to watch a Footsie 100 chairman gladly sweating out 20 more press-ups for a ravishing South African instructress.

My favourite room of all is the dressing area – an unimaginably comfortable clubroom with sofas, writing tables, and all the newspapers and magazines. Delicious sandwiches, salads, and drinks are available from Adbin, Gustavo, and Bob Popovic.

Members loll about watching sport and share prices on a giant screen or doze in leather armchairs. I have my hair cut by John Cordell, who used to be at Harrods, and who very kindly agrees not to show me the back of my head with his mirror, so I remain blissfully oblivious to my thinning thatch.

Sometimes I daydream about actually living at the Bath & Racquets Club. It provides a level of comfort and inner tranquillity that I have never quite achieved at home. It is a shame that it has no bedrooms, or I might actually move in.

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