nick strangeway

STRANGER THOUGHTS: A place for members

19 August, 2021

The recent launch of Martinez members’ cocktail bar on Soho’s Greek Street struck a chord with me.

Back in the ’90s I worked in some of London’s top members’ bars alongside the late Dick Bradsell, and they were hugely popular. People would join them just for the drinks because they were some of the best around, and you could meet rock stars and have regular lock ins.

It was enjoyable to work in them because every guest was a regular and you knew the type of person you’d be serving each night. But the fact people were paying a premium to drink at the bar drove my standards and kept me on my toes.

I was a member of the Groucho Club for a number of years because I enjoyed the atmosphere and socialising with similar-minded company. Some of the main reasons people join clubs is to socialise in specific circles and to get that feeling of exclusivity.

In today’s society members’ clubs carry an elitist tag as if they’re just for the rich and famous. But Soho’s Martinez costs its members less than £1 a day for year round access, and when it’s pissing down with rain on a Saturday night and there are queues outside every bar, suddenly £300 a year for a guaranteed seat with good drinks and regular faces seems like a bargain.

Soho House and other similar establishments get criticism from the woke population for the vetting process used to accept new members, but the same thing happens in regular bars. Bouncers are told to reject people if they’re not dressed appropriately or if they don’t appear to be the venue’s desired clientele. At the famed Milk & Honey you basically had to know the person on the door to get in, which is essentially a form of elitism.

I think there’s still a place for members’ bars. They were once rife in cities like London and, with it becoming increasingly difficult to walk into top bars without booking, the convenience of them could lead a revival, especially in those with reciprocal clubs around the world.

However, we need to get over the idea that they’re elitist. Some of the most liberal establishments in the UK, like the Tate art gallery, have paid memberships which allow early access to exhibitions and the right to the top floor bar on certain evenings, yet for some reason this isn’t considered elitist.

I’m all for a resurgence in members’ bars because I think there’s a club for anyone, there are no rules which dictate who can and who cannot open their own club. A members’ bar could open specifically for those who hate members’ bars, but they’d all have something in common and would likely enjoy each other’s company in a bar they like.

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