There are certain exclusive places in London where you cannot get in without a much desired membership card, or a quiet nod of approval from a doorman. All over the city are unmarked or discretely labelled doors which quietly announce the entrance to private clubs, open to those who subscribe to their membership. The Soho House chain have numerous buildings all over town. There is the luvvies' favourite, The Groucho, in Soho. Another media professional's hangout is the unhelpfully named Hospital Club in Covent Garden, which is more album playback parties than heart surgery and waiting rooms. If you fancy something a little weird and wacky in the way of private clubs there can be nowhere more suitable than Sketch, just off Regent Street, where the toilets are white, spacey pods which tell you stories in French, and extraordinary artwork leaps off every wall. All have just a gentle hint of pretension, but are nonetheless always fun to visit. Thanks to a recent work event which was held within one such club, I recently got an extended glimpse inside, however as most of these clubs are pretty funny about their secrets of interior decor and styling being shared around I shall let you guess where I have been rather than give it away.
Once inside this mystery club the lack of signage and mystery continues. I travel in a lift which only visits the ground, 4th and 5th floors. The only sign I note on a door simply declares "Roof". The decor is somewhat eclectic, in an expensive East London kind of way. In our paneled meeting room lime green tub chairs surround a heavy wooden ship's table. A small, surprised-looking owl stares out from inside a glass case on a bashed, black lacquered cabinet. One wall of the room is formed by paned window glass looking onto the private members lounge, where young, cool urbanites (the kind who wear glasses specifically to evoke geek chic, rather than for any sort of myopic need) sip £4 coffees whilst tapping away on their Macbooks. For the privacy of both the laptop-clutchers and my work group however the windows are all cloaked in old faded green velvet curtains, reminiscent of those which covered the stage at my old school during plays.
Outside our closetted space are bars, a dining room and an area containing recondition arcade games and a pool table. 9 boxes (yes, I counted) of Scrabble sit bookshelves next to multiple sets of Jenga and Monopoly; although I wonder how many members actually play a single game. A gym is tucked quietly away nearby, with a television screen broadcasting a livefeed from a swimming pool on the top of the building. For the two days I spend in the club the streaming shows little more than raindrops plopping into the pool, apart from early one morning where a single swimmer ploughs solomnly up and down, seemingly unaware that their work-out is being broadcast to fellow club-members (and the odd interloper such as myself).
The food is flawless. As a departure from the usual egg mayonaise sandwiches on industrially thick white bread usually served at corporate events, we dine on thin, wood-fire toasted pizzas and groaning bowls of rainbow salad; purple and yellow beets nestling amid lush green leaves and creamy parmesan. The service we recieve from the clubs staff is utterly charming and competant. They anticipate a guest's needs with the skill of a modern day Jeeves, and are just as polite to us one-off non-members as they are to those who pay annually for the facilities. (One day I spy the staff eating lunch from the same kitchen which serves the exclusive guests, seated down the polished wooden benches which stretch the length of the dining room; now there's a "work perk" worth having!)
Photographs of the inside of this establishments are expressly forbidden, in case one accidentally snaps a celebrity, however the view from one of its upper windows is equally intriguing. During a slow point in our 2 days of meetings I watch a rainstorm approaching and a building going up, as a large red crane extended high up into the steely sky swinging buckets of materials above the rooftops. Against the blue facade of a huge box-like building a bright, fire-engine red helicopter crouches on its helipad. From time to time it whirls up into the sky and off over the city, before popping back to recharged on its pad again. I am glad to be inside this cosy place rather than in the dreary cold below.
Somewhere within this single building you can swim, go bowling, drink, eat, celebrate, screen movies or even rent a room and sleep. Yet I would find it hard to keep my head on a pillow here, with so much else going on. I would worry I was always missing out on something else happening just a few, unlabelled rooms away.