The best equipped club in London and as an added bonus you get a fantastic country club too. Sometimes a bit crowded.
- Full name: The Royal Automobile Club
- Location: 89-91 Pall Mall, St. James’s, London SW1
- Type: Automotive club (now social). Exclusive, non-commercial private members’ club
- Formed: 1897
- Membership requirements: Proposed and seconded by at least two current members. Short waiting list of about 12-16 months.
It is hard to miss the St James’s clubhouse of the Royal Automobile Club. Together with the Great Wall of China it is one of only two human structures visible from the moon. Built with the minimalism and lightness of a Victorian water tower, it sits so heavily in the middle of Pall Mall it is rumoured that if you were to put a pea on the grown anywhere in St James’s, it time it would eventually end up resting on the doorsteps of the RAC.
The club – and the automotive services company sharing its name – were founded in 1897. The clubhouse was completed in 1911. The automotive service company was spun off in 1999, securing the clubs finances for many years to come (and a pretty substantial payout to the members at the time).
There is also a country clubhouse at Woodcote Park in Surrey, in the old stately home of the Barons of Baltimore. The country club has two golf courses of a high standard, a swimming pool, tennis courts and in general all that is required for the members staying over in one of the 20-or-so bedrooms, to live an active, healthy country life.
Sport is not absent from the daily life at the Pall Mall clubhouse either. In addition to a Turkish bath and a world-famous swimming pool, the clubhouse also boasts a number of squash courts. In fact, the first international squash rules were apparently written down in a meeting at the club.
The London clubhouse has two restaurants – a brasserie called Brooklands (or Brooks among members) and a formal restaurant called The Great Gallery – two bars (a formal drinks bar and a sports bar), in addition to a stunning sitting room, a Ladies’ drawing room, a library, a number of functions rooms and about 100 bedrooms.
All this makes the club one of the best equipped in clubland. The atmosphere of the club, though, with its 18,000 members, is very different from the more traditional St James’s club. Compared to the extremely friendly and family-like feel of more exclusive clubs like Carlton (1,600 members) or National Liberal Club (1,300 members) – not to mention the super-clubs like White’s which is estimated to have about 470 members.
The two restaurants both offer great service and great food, and there is a great range of activities for members. The most irritating aspect of the club is probably that the London clubhouse can be a bit overcrowded at times. The more snobbish of clubland aficionado are keen to point out that a club should be an extension of your home, and that is difficult to imagine when you can’t find a place to sit.